DEVA officially elects Babacan as leader, ready to run in elections

One of Turkey’s youngest opposition parties, the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) that was established last year held its first congress on Dec. 29, when former ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) heavyweight Ali Babacan was elected chairman by 515 votes out of 523.

Babacan had left the AKP and announced he was founding the DEVA on March 9.

The former minister, often credited with the AKP’s economic success in its first decade in power, ran unopposed in the congress. His so-called A Team was also elected at the congress.

Notably, only Turkish flags and DEVA banners adorned the Atatürk Hall in the capital, which hosted only party administrators, delegates and journalists due to coronavirus restrictions.

In the congress, Babacan said, “We are not a one-man party, but a cadre movement. One man alone is nothing. That is why, on principle, we decided not to have photos, especially in party buildings and offices.”

Babacan, one of the AKP’s founding members back in August 2001, served in various AKP governments as minister from the party’s first election win on Nov. 3, 2002, until 2015. Serving mainly as the deputy prime minister responsible for the economy, Babacan also served as European Union minister and foreign minister after Abdullah Gül took the presidency in 2007. He returned to his duties for the economy, leaving the Foreign Ministry to Ahmet Davutoğlu, another AKP heavyweight who established his breakaway party last year.

The reason why Babacan remained separate from Davutoğlu was Abdullah Gül’s attitude towards the former prime minister and AKP chairman. The former prime minister maintained that he wanted to act together, but saw no goodwill to that end from the Babacan-Gül front. Babacan preferred not to talk about the matter - until today.

Davutoğlu’s Future Party (GP) organised in enough provinces to meet the criteria set in the law, and held its first congress on Nov. 1. Babacan held his on Dec. 29, earlier than the estimated date of 2021.

As such, DEVA now also has the right to participate in possible regular or snap elections to come.

In the congress, Babacan said it was painful that the AKP had drifted to where it was today. The party has started to oppress everyone, after years of being oppressed itself, Babacan said, adding that Turkey had also drifted significantly away from a vision set in the early days of the AKP, which was why he left.

“The state is run under loyalty to one single man’s future instead of the country’s, to one single man instead of the law,” Babacan said, criticising the AKP “trampling” the rule of law and disregarding the will of the electorate. The DEVA chairman spoke of pressure on civil society, and the replacement of elected mayors with government-appointed proxies.

Education and equal opportunity in access to education are Turkey’s most major problems, according to Babacan. “We speak of education, they hear construction for school buildings. We speak of healthcare, they hear construction for hospital buildings. Construction, profiteering, and killing the environment in the country and in cities is all they know.”

Areas of the economy, such as the Wealth Fund, have turned into black holes, Babacan said, while the state’s debt doubled in two years. “The treasury is empty, the central bank has no foreign currency reserves left. Young people are unemployed, and in a sadder turn, hopeless.”

Public healthcare has deteriorated, and public education has created a rift among the people, Babacan said. “Parents are afraid their children won’t get a good education, that they will go hungry.”

“This great country of 84 million people is run by one single man and a small group of decision-makers,” Babacan said, speaking of the pressure on the media, arrested journalists, violence against women, and inconsistent foreign policies.

“The government turned tyrant itself after it took over the state,” Babacan said. “these are the people who were once persecuted.”

“The issue is principles and values, and the sad thing is that Turkey is experiencing issues with rights and freedoms once again, after 20 years,” said Babacan. “People are afraid to speak. Media is silenced. There is discrimination over ethnicity and faith.”

Babacan and his DEVA weren’t very visible in early polls, and the party had to slow down organising efforts due to the worsening COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns. Babacan himself contracted the coronavirus at one point, and quarantined himself.

After he got better, Babacan accelerated efforts, focusing on Kurdish-majority east and southeast provinces.

Current polls place the party at around 2.5 to 3 percent. Regardless of the figures, though, both Babacan and Davutoğlu pose significant political risk to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as they are privy to key decisions made during their terms in AKP governments.

Now that DEVA will be able to run, Babacan’s job is significantly easier. He hasn’t made a clear statement on alliances yet, but appears close to the opposition’s Millet (“Nation”) alliance with his focus on a fortified parliamentary system to replace the current executive presidential one.

Lately, there has been talk of a conservative democratic-liberal centre-right alliance, which was where the AKP got its start. DEVA and GP may both join forces in this alliance, together with the Felicity Party (SP), which emerged from the same Islamist groups that the AKP has its roots in, and the Good Party (İYİP), which was established by politicians leaving AKP’s minor coalition partner the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). In this case, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) would be left alone, out of such a centre-right to right-wing coalition.

Davutoğlu and Babacan have both focused on the eastern parts of the country, in apparent attempts to appease the Kurdish voter. A political entity based on the concept of a fortified parliamentary system could see less aggressive dialogue with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in case of a common-principle gathering of opposition wings.

The CHP is rumoured to be preparing for the framework for such a gathering, possibly to kickstart a process of visits and negotiations in January. These tours among the opposition are likely to include the DEVA.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.