People exercised their right to protest at Gezi Park - Future Party

A new Turkish centre-right political party founded by the former prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, believes the courts were right to acquit philanthropist and civil society activist Osman Kavala and eight other defendants of trying to topple the government by organising widespread protests in 2013, the new party’s deputy leader Ayhan Sefer Üstün said.

The Future Party believes the government, the security forces and the judiciary have a duty to separate “normal, democratic movements and marginal ones,” Üstün said, echoing a term Davutoğlu used frequently to refer to extreme leftist groups during his time as prime minister between 2014 and 2016.

Davutoğlu, Üstün and other former senior members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) established the Future Party in December as an alternative, conservative home for voters dissatisfied with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s 17-year rule.

An Istanbul court on Tuesday acquitted Kavala and eight other defendants accused of attempting to violently overthrow the government through the 2013 Gezi protests, which started as a small sit-in against the redevelopment of an Istanbul park, but snowballed into nationwide demonstrations. Warrants were issued for the remaining seven defendants to appear in court and testify, as they are currently outside the country.

Ayhan Sefer Üstün
Ayhan Sefer Üstün

Davutoğlu, who was Turkey’s foreign minister at the time of the Gezi Park protests, was a plaintiff in the case, but withdrew a day before the final hearing. The withdrawal was a party decision, said Üstün, a former AKP member of parliament.

The people exercised their right to protest in 2013, Üstün said. The demands the protesters made, he said were “democratic and humane at the beginning,” but there were always “marginal elements that desire to create opportunities out of mass events.”

The faction within the ruling AKP that ended up establishing the Future Party started to break away back in 2015, Üstün said, when an anti-corruption act, a proposal to regulate the construction sector, and efforts to implement visa-free travel to EU countries were “hindered, not by the opposition, but by the parliamentary party that we were part of”.

Corruption was a big issue for the new party, said Üstün. “We may seem silent now, but we are not, we talk about it,” he said.

The group was vocal within the AKP against the 2017 constitutional referendum which approved the current executive presidential system, Üstün said. “We objected to the end ... We even submitted an 18-page report signed by Davutoğlu,” he said.

Üstün said the group did not publicly oppose the change from a parliamentary system to a presidential one. Without first-hand experience of the presidential system, the Turkish people “could have told us we were in betrayal, that the referendum did not pass because of us and the country was pushed into a crisis,” he said. “But now, the citizens have seen it, and nobody has any more objections because we did what was right.”

A political crisis in Turkey triggered the economic one, Üstün said.

“Putting people without expertise in charge of the economy, a lack of transparency and competency, and the drift away from the international community are fundamental causes for the economic crisis,” he said.

Üstün said the Future Party opposed nepotism, which he said was rife within the system, and the economy could not recover under such management. The state must be accountable to the people.

“They must explain down to the cent where the taxes were spent,” Üstün said, referring an the earthquake tax introduced after the devastating 1999 earthquake in northwestern Turkey that killed more than 17,000 people.

“Experts say an earthquake of more than 7.5 magnitude will hit Istanbul soon,” Üstün said. “Should you spend more than 100 billion liras ($16.4 billion) on earthquake preparedness, or Kanal Istanbul?” the deputy chair asked, referring to a heavily criticised artificial waterway project to bypass the Bosporus Straits championed by Erdoğan.

The mainstream media have not covered the new party at all, Üstün said, and “there is a strict embargo on the Future Party, its leader and its members,” which also extends to institutions thought to have past connections to them.

The government took over the Foundation for Sciences and Arts (BİSAV) in January, shortly after its takeover of Istanbul Şehir University in December. Davutoğlu was among the founders of both institutions.

Üstün denied members of the Future Party had remained silent when the government took over 23 out of the 65 municipalities that the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) won in 2019 local elections. Üstün said it was Davutoğlu who was first to object, and that the party objected to the dismissal of elected mayors after they had been approved to stand by Turkey’s election authority.

The Future Party has clashed with the HDP, with Future Party spokesman Selim Temurci speaking out against the HDP’s jailed former leader Selahattin Demirtaş, and Davutoğlu accusing the pro-Kurdish party of arrogance. The HDP has in turn accused Davutoğlu of slandering Demirtaş and failing to bring to light the events of October 2014, when 53 people lost their lives in Turkey during protests against the Islamic State siege of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani.

Üstün said the HDP refrained from speaking out against the government, but instead criticised the Future Party. “It is like they are giving (the government) a message through us.”

He said that at the moment it was not realistic to talk about electoral alliances as there were no elections on the horizon, but the Future Party was open to co-operation in some areas with all parties.

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