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Turkey's ruling AKP to expel former PM Davutoglu from party

Ahmet Davutoglu has previously criticised government economic management and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Davutoglu, right, has recently accused the AKP of deviating from its core principles (AFP)

Turkey's ruling AK Party (AKP) is set to expel former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu and three other former lawmakers, a senior official and local media has said, as talk of a possible new breakaway movement continues.

Davutoglu, who fell out with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016 and was later replaced as prime minister by Binali Yildirim, has previously criticised AKP policies, government economic management and Erdogan himself.

The decision came after a nearly five-hour meeting on Monday of the central executive committee of the AKP chaired by Erdogan, Hurriyet newspaper reported on its website.

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The committee also demanded that Ayhan Sefer Ustun, Selcuk Ozdag and Abdullah Basci, be dismissed from the party, an official, who asked not to be named, told the Reuters news agency.

The party's disciplinary council is expected to rubber-stamp that in the next few days.

A leading AKP figure who served both as foreign minister and prime minister, Davutoglu has recently accused the party of deviating from its core principles.

His criticism included the party's insistence on a rerun of the Istanbul vote after the AKP lost the city to the opposition in March local elections, as well as the removal of three mayors in eastern Turkey on terrorism-related claims.

New party

The move comes amid rumours that dissident party members are seeking to form a rival party following the stinging defeat in the rerun of the Istanbul election in June that was one of the biggest setbacks in Erdogan's career.

In July, Ali Babacan, a former deputy prime minister, resigned from the AKP, citing "deep differences" and hinting at the formation of a new party.

Babacan, along with former president Abdullah Gul, plans to launch a rival movement this year, according to people familiar with the matter, in a move that could further challenge Erdogan's political grip.

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It has been long assumed within Turkish political circles that opposition within the AKP to Erdogan would move as a bloc to produce an alternative to the president's current political agenda.

But several sources, both AKP insiders and others outside the party who are close to the dissidents, told Middle East Eye that this isn't the case.

Davutoglu had been rumoured to be mulling joining Babacan and Gul's breakaway party but now says that he has been frozen out by his former comrades.

"I don't know why we aren't together with Gul and Babacan," Davutoglu told a Sputnik Turkey radio host in a three-hour video interview broadcast on YouTube in July. 

There are reported to be issues between Gul and Davutoglu dating back to 2014, when Gul's term ended and Erdogan was elected as president.

Babacan, who is close to Gul and Davutoglu, is reported to have made attempts to bring the two men together but without success.

A source close to Davutoglu said the former prime minister was planning a "new step," Reuters said.

'Of course I'm hurt'

Until now, Erdogan, who does not face an electoral challenge until a presidential contest in 2023, did not appear to have a plan to counter the dissenters.

He had not made any changes to his government in the wake of the seismic election defeats in March and then June.

In speeches, he continued to describe the state of the economy in positive terms and had not made any significant amendments to policies.

Yet he conceded in July that the split with so many former colleagues had shaken him.

"Of course I'm hurt by the likes of [Davutoglu, Babacan and Gul]. How couldn’t I be?" Erdogan told reporters.

The removal of Davutoglu and other former lawmakers may mark the start of the president's fight back.