Turkey’s authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a man who has been in power for nearly two decades, is facing an unexpected challenge to his grip on power ahead of local elections on March 31, after former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and ex-President Abdullah Gul, as well as former Economy Minister Ali Babacan and current Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek, have all said that they are considering the possibility of breaking away from the ruling AKP in favour of forming an Erdogan-less political faction of their own.

During a speech on February 9, Davutoglu openly criticised AKP policies, reminding his audience that inflation stood at only 3% when he stepped down in November 2015.

In an interview with NTV news, Erdogan accused his former colleagues of treason. “One should not commit treason” by joining them, Erdogan said last week.

Speculation that Gul and Davutoglu would challenge Erdogan first began to emerge last year and has only picked up momentum amid the rapidly deteriorating economic conditions in the country This could possibly mean that a challenge to Erdogan’s iron grip on power would have more chance of success as a result of the collapse of the Turkish lira, rising unemployment, and rampant inflation.

The AKP appears to be on the road to a major defeat at the end of March as national polling indicate that the ruling party is likely to be trounced in the upcoming vote.

Since coming to power in 2002, Erdogan and his Islamist AKP, or Justice and Development Party in English, had overseen a major economic boom in Turkey. The relative prosperity and rise of the middle class, however, came at the cost of Ankara’s deteriorating relationship with its Western allies in NATO and the European Union over Erdogan’s human rights record, his budding relationships with Russia, and his increasingly bold efforts to push a deeply religious agenda that mixes Islamism with neo-Ottoman irredentist rhetoric  in a country that had been previously noted for its state secularism and rejection of its oppressive imperial past.

Under Erdogan, Turkey has become the world’s leading jailer of journalists, outpacing China, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Since an attempted coup failed in July 2016, Erdogan’s security apparatus has dissent has ruthlessly been suppressed, with journalists, political activists, and human rights defenders among those targeted.

In the wake of the failed coup, Erdogan’s crackdown also included targeting civil servants and state workers, 107,000 of which have been removed from public sector jobs by emergency decree, while an estimated 50,000 others were imprisoned pending trial.