(Releads and updates with additional Babacan comments throughout)
Ali Babacan, Turkey’s former deputy prime minister who has rolled his sleeves up to form a new party, said on Tuesday that the country’s ruling party was continuously eroding after years ago distancing itself from its founding principles.
He also said the party’s problems had been affecting Turkey, pushing it toward a troubled phase.
“There has been a significant departure from the [party’s] principles. This has become a national issue. Problems began to emerge in Turkey, we feel that the country entered a dark tunnel and we felt a serious responsibility toward our country,” Babacan, a founding member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), said during a televised interview.
There was a serious deviation from transparency, accountability, pre decision-making consultation, basing decisions on rules and abstaining from arbitrariness within the AKP, Babacan said.
The former AKP deputy prime minister still has many detractors on the streets of Turkey. A weak performance in this year’s local elections is thought by many to have prompted Babacan and another AKP stalwart, former prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, to create new political movements. Yet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan still commands the personal support of a large number of Turks, resulting in his accusations that the former AKP politicians had “backstabbed him” seeking to “divide the faithful” has resonated with a sizeable portion of the population.
“My departure from the AKP was a process. As you know, I am one of the founders of the party. While we were [immersed] in the world of business, we decided that the climate of Feb. 28 [1997 post-modern coup]called for a new political movement and together with our friends, we founded the AKP. There were important principles and values in its founding. Firstly, we valued human beings, human rights and freedoms,’’ Babacan said, speaking on the initial ideas that fuelled the Islamist AKP.
Rumours that senior party members are preparing to part ways with the AKP emerged after the party presided over serious economic problems and faced stunning defeats in the March local elections. Many are reportedly dissatisfied with the new executive presidential system, which places sweeping executive powers in the hands of Erdoğan.
Former AKP heavyweight said that Turkey’s presidential system, which was ushered in with the 2018 elections, within months became synonymous with Turkey’s greatest financial crisis.
Babacan performance as deputy prime minister for the economy helped the AKP to an impressive economic record before he was sidelined in 2015.
“Turkey will grow if it becomes a preferred destination for investors. Becoming introverted could be a political choice, but it is not our choice. We want this country to be a respectable country that can talk and work with everyone,” Babacan said.
Regarding Turkey’s relationship with the West, Babacan said it is beneficial for the country to be part of the Western bloc. However, he said both NATO and the EU have been facing problems, such as the tensions between the United States and other NATO members and Brexit.
“According to the new realities of the world, we need to rebuild our own framework of cooperation. Turkey should be able to talk to each country,” he said.
Turkey must comply with the international agreements but imposing another country’s decision on Turkey means a violation of its sovereignty, Babacan said when he was asked about the Halkbank case in the United States.
The case against Halkbank, accused of involvement in a complex scheme to circumvent U.S. sanctions on Iran, has gained added importance in U.S.-Turkish relations, as the bank was indicted in Oct. at a time when U.S. politicians were angered by Turkey’s military offensive in Syria.
The indictment states that Turkish-Iranian millionaire businessman Reza Zarrab bribed high-ranking Turkish officials, including a minister, to facilitate the oil-for-gold scheme in which Halkbank laundered the revenues in the U.S. banking system.
“The government has no binding decision on this matter. The government has no direct legal responsibility in any of the public banks,” Babacan said, adding that Turkey, in principle, does not leave alone a bank that it became a partner with.
The former deputy prime minister also said Gülen movement, which Turkey calls the Fethullahist Terror Organisation (FETÖ) and blames it for the failed July 2016 coup attempt, infiltrated state institutions and must be punished.
However, he added, there have been grave complications and injustices regarding the trial processes.
“There are serious grievances in the fight against FETÖ. Therefore, it is necessary to establish justice. There is serious unrest in the country. Unjust treatments must be avoided,” Babacan said.
Regarding ethnic and religious minorities, notably Kurds and Alevis, he said they are equal citizens of the country and should have equal rights.
“The duty of the state is to guarantee freedom of belief and expression,” he said, adding that human rights are something not to be given by the state, but either guaranteed by it.
“Turkey’s largest need is a different discourse in politics. This country needs work to be done. We are used to working hard and we will work hard. We will do this together with our team. We will do this as a cadre movement,” he added.