Ergun Babahan
Sep 02 2019

Babacan's priority must be restoring justice and freedom of speech in Turkey

Ali Babacan, a founder member of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and former deputy prime minister in charge of the economy, is working hard with his team to launch a new political party in December and looking to represent a broad section of society.

Babacan and the former president, Abdullah Gül, do not want the new party to be identified as a right or left-wing party, but to occupy the centre ground and include figures from both sides of the political divide amongst the party's founders.

The new party wants to see women take up a strong presence within its organisation. I think it should set a 50-percent-quota for women from the very beginning. A political movement in which women are not strongly represented is unlikely to deliver success.

As far as I understand, contrary to allegations by the pro-government media, Babacan's team has not made any offers to senior AKP members. I think they should stay away from the AKP as far as possible, because it is not just AKP politicians that you let in when you open the door, they would also bring all the troubles of the ruling party with them, in particular corruption and illegality.

Considering Babacan's economic success while in government, some might expect his first focus to be the fragile economy. But the first aim of the new party should be to restore justice and freedom of speech.

The movement's core team has agreed that a strong economic system cannot be established and cannot attract foreign capital without a healthy and independent judiciary. Former Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, law professor Osman Can and several other academics are working on a comprehensive judicial reform package for the new party. Ergin, who served his duty efficiently during Turkey's accession negotiations with the European Union, earned the respect of the bloc's institutions and representatives.

People who live in Turkey or engage with Turkish politics admit that the independence of the judicial system has already collapsed. This fact is evidenced by the rulings of judges in cases of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson and German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel, who were both freed as a result of political deals, as well as other political cases. The judges are part of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's chain of command.

Even some AKP supporters admit some verdicts are made as a result of bribery. In such an atmosphere, no one can invest in Turkey with confidence.

The second topic is freedom of speech. Ali Babacan, in conversation with his friends, says that the main reason for Turkey’s current problems is the pressure on freedom of speech. The restriction on freedom of speech prevents the media from correctly informing the public about the actions of the government. People who do not have reliable information cannot make a factual choice at the ballot box.

The pressure on freedom of speech and equating any criticism with treason is counter-productive. Ministers and bureaucrats, instead of telling the truth, just say what makes Erdoğan and his inner circle happy. They do not want to cross the lines drawn by the president. As a result, institutions collapse and merit becomes irrelevant. People who lick Erdoğan’s boots shine, while able and hardworking people are sidelined.

The first goal of the new party must be to ensure institutionalisation based on merit and ability.

Babacan's parting words to Erdoğan are important. Many journalists, including Abdülkadir Selvi, known for his close ties to the AKP, wrote about the meeting and their accounts were not denied by the ruling party. Erdoğan asked Babacan not to resign and to work with him while Babacan told him that he could not operate with a team not chosen on the basis of merit.

Everyone outside the government agrees on the need for change. According to Babacan, it is necessary to renew the justice system entirely, pave the way for critical thinking and strengthen institutions. For this, he believes that the education system needs to be overhauled.

Some have doubts about the new party and think it will be a continuation or a repetition of AKP, and that is natural. But my opinion is that this team, representing the urban and educated part of conservative society, knows very well how one-man rule and the divergence from democratic principles has turned the country into hell. Babacan sees religion as a matter of personal choice and aims to remove religion from the area of politics.

For this reason, he aims to appear in public with people who represent everyone in society rather than only with the prominent figures working with him right now. I will also write about the new party’s views on the Kurdish question, but just as the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) has repositioned itself on the issue, Babacan's movement will also declare itself in favour of a peaceful solution of the country's biggest problem.

Turkey's emergence from these dark days might not be far away. Democracy’s value is understood through experience and paying the price. Turkey is going through this period.

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