Turkey’s ruling coalition ‘panicking’ over new opposition parties, says DEVA official

One of Turkey’s newest opposition parties, the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), is aware of the uphill battle it faces as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its junior coalition partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), prepare for a series of legal amendments that would effectively prevent them for posing a political challenge.

But DEVA sees the proposals by the AKP-MHP alliance to change laws pertaining to elections and political parties as a sign of panic by Turkey’s ruling powers over the fresh opposition thay face, a senior member of the party, who chose to speak on condition of anonymity, told Ahval.

Moreover, DEVA - which broke away from the AKP - is prepared to open its doors to lawmakers from other parties as it enters the Turkish political scene ahead of the next general election, currently scheduled for 2023, the founding DEVA member said.

DEVA was launched in March by Ali Babacan, a former deputy prime minister. Credited with successfully steering Turkey’s economy during the first decade of AKP rule, Babacan presents his new party as liberal democratic and pro-Western.

The former Erdoğan ally has not been shy about criticising the Turkish government since DEVA was launched. His condemnation of a prison bill earlier this year that paved the way for the release of up to one third of the country’s population, but excluded political prisoners and government critics, including journalists, particularly ruffled the AKP's feathers.

Well aware of Babacan’s popularity among Turkey’s youth, the AKP and the MHP have been quick to propose amendments to laws that would change elections and parliamentary representation.

“It is very evident why all of this has come to the fore,’’ the DEVA official said. “They are looking to limit our ability to enter the next election. This is the reason for their panic.’’

The push for a series of legal amendments by the AKP-MHP alliance has sparked rumours of a snap election, a claim the alliance has denied.

The measures proposed by the ruling coalition would make it more difficult for lawmakers to join newly-formed opposition parties and thereby making it harder for them pose an electoral threat to the AKP-MHP coalition.

“When DEVA was in its founding stages, many lawmakers from the AKP wished to join us. We did not want this. We completed our launch and are continuing our efforts for administrative organisation nationwide. And now we can say that any of friends - from the AKP or other parties - are welcome to join us,’’ the official said.

DEVA is one of two AKP breakaway parties launched over the past six months. Former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu founded the Future Party in December. Both Babacan and Davutoğlu left Erdoğan’s AKP citing deep differences and Erdoğan has, for the most part, dismissed their new movements.

The parties found an unexpected hand of support from the leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. The main opposition leader has gone on record to say that he would be happy to provide both parties with CHP lawmakers - should they wish.

The current political party law stipulates that a political party with a group in parliament of at least 20 lawmakers is eligible to participate in elections and to nominate a presidential candidate - criteria that neither DEVA nor Future Party have met at the moment.

The ruling AKP-MHP alliance is also looking to make changes to the country’s internet laws, including a proposal to require social media users to register an identification number to access popular online platforms. 

The AKP is also drafting a bill that would force all social media platforms with more than a million daily users to appoint a legal representative in Turkey who would be responsible for ensuring that the platforms meet the government’s demands.

According to the DEVA official, this is an attempt to restrict the remaining avenues for free expression in Turkey, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

Online media platforms remain one of the very few outlets for opposition parties, who cannot find a place in the media controlled by the government, to reach the public.

Such proposals are “no different than changes to the laws on political parties and elections,’’ the DEVA official said. “As it currently stands, almost the entirety of the conventional media is under the control of the ruling power. There is a media with one voice.’’

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