Ali Babacan - The Man to Take on Turkish President Erdogan?

by Ali Almandalawi

Ali Babacan was born in Ankara in 1967. He graduated first in the Class of 1985 from Ankara College.  In 1989, he received a Bachelor of Science Degree (BS) in Industrial Engineering from the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, where he ranked first among the graduates of that year. In 1990, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and attended the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he received his Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Marketing, Organizational Behavior and International Business in 1992.

From 1992 to 1994, he worked at a Chicago-based company providing financial consulting services to top executives of major banks in the United States. Subsequently, he returned to Ankara to run his family business from 1994 until 2002.

He entered politics in 2001 as one of the founding members and a Board member of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and was elected to parliament at the general elections held in November 2002. Soon after he was appointed Minister of State in charge of Economy,  becoming the youngest member of the cabinet. He retained his position throughout the 58th and 59th Governments of the Republic of Turkey until August 2007.

Babacan has a reputation for being a quick thinker, calm under pressure, accessible and a shrewd reader of Turkey’s political landscape. He is also known to be a skilled negotiator and possesses a knack for creating a conducive atmosphere during even the most tortured deliberations. His negotiating skills were put to the test when he was tasked with steering a painful economic reform program which was backed by multi-billion-dollar International Monetary Fund loans and successfully bailed Turkey out of its 2000-2001 crisis.

In June 2005, he was appointed as Chief Negotiator in Turkey’s accession negotiations with the European Union, a position he held for 4 years. Babacan was seen as one of three candidates for the job. The discussions were long and hard and focused largely on whether the person should be a technocrat or politician. Babacan was seen as being more of technocrat than a politician before entering politics but also earned himself a reputation for being a dynamic and skilled negotiator as a cabinet minister. Along with his language skills, these qualities made him the right man for the job.

In August 29 2007, he was appointed as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the 60th Government of the Republic of Turkey. He then held the position of Deputy Prime Minister for Economic and Financial Affairs from 2009 to 2015.

In 2019, Babacan sent shockwaves through the country when he resigned from the ruling AKP, citing “deep differences” over the party’s direction as a reason.  In a statement July 8 declaring his resignation. Babacan declared: “In recent years, deep differences have emerged over the principles, values and opinions in which I believe and the implementations [of the AKP] in separate areas. The current situation necessitated a brand-new vision of the future in Turkey because we have new, dynamic and promising generations that have completely different demands.”

His statement was widely seen as an indication of his plans to establish a rival political party.  With economic recession, unemployment and inflation hurting Turkish voters and eating into Present Recep Erdogan’s support base, any further erosion - even just a few percentage points – could be deeply damaging for his party, which already has to rely on an alliance with nationalists for its parliamentary majority. Analysts suggest the tipping point for an AKP split and whether a new party succeeds is the economy. Criticism of Erdogan's leadership within the party has also been building, with his centralizing of power and accusations of increasing authoritarianism. Following the 2016 failed coup, hundreds of thousands have been purged from their jobs or jailed, in a crackdown that continues.

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