Babacan says new Turkish party to prioritise constitutional change, media freedoms

(Updates with statements from Babacan, party programme)

Turkish former Finance Minister Ali Babacan officially launched his new Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) at a ceremony in Ankara on Wednesday.

The breakaway from the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) says it aims to tackle the greatest problems facing Turkey, including the executive presidential system, the constitution, media freedoms, the justice system, the Kurdish problem, the economy and foreign policy.

"One of your main priorities will be implementing a democratic constitution," Sözcü newspaper quoted Babacan as saying. "We are going to lift all of the barriers before media freedoms.”

The 52-year-old founding member of the AKP resigned from the ruling party last year, citing differences over the state of democracy, the rule of law and foreign policy.

The new party launch kicked off with a video highlighting the leadership role of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey.

Babacan said constitutional changes following a 2017 referendum, which ushered in a presidential system of government, had done away with democratic checks and balances, and weakened parliament and the judiciary.

"We are going to transform parliament into an organ which is at the centre of the political system, which most loftily represents the will of the people and most effectively oversees the executive,” Babacan said. 

The former finance minister said DEVA, which means “remedy” in Turkish, was committed to tackling the issues facing Turkey’s ailing economy, which is recovering from a currency crisis that sent it into a recession in late 2018 and early last year.

"Our investors, our industrialists cannot see ahead, they are struggling to survive,” said Babacan, who is widely lauded for successfully steering Turkey’s economy in the first decade after the AKP came to power in 2002.

"Education continues to stand before us as the most important field [in need of reform]. Our health sector is giving signals of swift deterioration," he said. 

DEVA sees civil society as a fundamental element of democracy, the former finance minister said, pointing to events in Turkey’s history, which he said had "altered the concept of state" in society. 

The ruling AKP tightened its grip on the country during a two-year state of emergency implemented after a 2016 coup attempt, instigating a series of purges that saw thousands of officials in the judiciary and other state bodies dismissed. The country ranked 109th out of 126 countries in rule of law index of 2019.

DEVA sees different opinions and beliefs as part of the wealth of the country, Babacan said.

"We are going to respect to the end the beliefs, freedom of worship and lifestyle of everyone. We are not going to turn our daily sanctities into political tools,” he said, taking a swipe at the Islamist ruling party.

Babacan said DEVA would lift all barriers to the freedom of the press in Turkey, which has seen a sharp decline under Erdoğan’s government. The country has become the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists, with year-long pre-trial detentions and long jail sentences commonplace.

The DEVA programme  also features plans for tackling Turkey’s Kurdish problem.

"We have full faith that a Turkey, which has solved its Kurdish problem, will excel in democracy, strengthen its economy in areas it requires, raise its legal standards, expand is scope of activity in foreign policy and strengthen its social structure,’’ the party’s official programme says.

Turkey’s Kurdish minority, which makes up about 15 percent of the population, has long faced discrimination at the hands of the state. 

"Democratic states are obliged to respond to their citizens’ demands regarding their native language,” the DEVA programme said referring to Kurdish. It said the party would pursue the protection of Kurdish and the removal of language as a political issue. 

The party, whose slogan is "we are ready", will have a cadre including 35 percent women, and 20 percent young people and those with disabilities, Babacan said.


DEVA follows the Future Party of former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu as the second breakaway from the AKP within a year.

In a parliamentary meeting with AKP provincial chairs on Wednesday, Erdoğan alluded to the new rival parties.

"Every so-called [political] formation serves no purpose further than confirming the need for the AKP,’’ Birgün newspaper quoted Erdoğan as saying, in an apparent reference to DEVA and the Future Party. 

"Those without a cause and nation will always be subject to defeat. None of these concern us in the least bit, because we continue to face untranscended horizons such as 2023...’’ the Turkish president said, the former referring to the date for the country’s next presidential election.

DEVA’s founding members include former AKP ministers Selma Aliye Kavaf, Nihat Ergün and Sadullah Ergin, along with six former AKP lawmakers. The party’s founding members also include journalists, a security expert, and chairwoman of a leading women’s organisation.

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