Political upheaval offers Erdogan chance to heal party wounds

Orhan Coskun
·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Putin meets with Turkish President Erdogan in Moscow
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Putin meets with Turkish President Erdogan in Moscow

By Orhan Coskun

ANKARA (Reuters) - Political turmoil over the resignation of Turkey's once powerful finance minister has a silver lining for President Tayyip Erdogan, offering a chance to ease tensions in his ruling party over the influential and divisive figure.

Berat Albayrak, Erdogan's son-in-law, said he was stepping down on Sunday in a dramatic statement on Instagram. The abrupt departure of a central figure in Erdogan's inner circle stunned the government and undermined the president who had long championed him, officials said.

But it also presents an opportunity to win back disaffected members within the ruling AK Party who felt marginalised by the rapid rise of the 42-year-old former businessman and took issue with his stewardship of the troubled economy, party sources say.

Disenchanted party members, including some parliamentarians, had been considering leaving and joining one of two new breakaway parties set up by AKP founders and former allies of Erdogan, according to three officials who spoke to Reuters.

"Such a thing was happening for the first time under Erdogan's leadership," an official close to the party said, referring to the 17 years that Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics since he became prime minister in 2003.

Polls have also shown support for the AKP, which relies on an alliance with a smaller nationalist party for its parliamentary majority, suffering as the country battles the COVID-19 pandemic, high inflation and a tumbling lira.

This week's events mean it "will be possible to win back those who are resentful or who started to lose hope," the official said, referring to Albayrak's resignation.

Opposition parties said this week that Albayrak's resignation revealed a "state crisis", and that reshuffling ministers would not be enough to rescue the economy.

NEW STRATEGY

In parliament this week Erdogan promised an economic growth strategy based on stability, lower inflation and international investment, a marked shift in tone from the president who has frequently blamed foreigners for Turkey's economic problems.

That followed a series of talks he held last week with officials and bankers about the Turkish lira's tumble to record lows against the dollar despite $100 billion spent this year to curb its fall.

In particular, executives at state banks pressed Erdogan to look into the depleted foreign exchange reserves, which he did, according to a former banker familiar with the matter.

After markets closed last week, Erdogan sacked the Central Bank governor, replacing him with a former finance minister who is expected to follow more orthodox monetary policy to address the slide in the lira.

Another senior official close to the AK Party said the shift of tone at home may be mirrored by less confrontational policy abroad, as Turkey adapts to an expected shift in Washington toward a firmer line toward Ankara, for example on its purchase of Russian air defences, when President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January.

"There were serious criticisms regarding some of Albayrak's policies and the president's positioning of him," another senior official close to the AK Party said. "Now a new beginning is being carried out."

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Spicer; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Frances Kerry)