Former Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, who heads the opposition Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of eroding Turkey’s democracy, undermining the independence of the judiciary and damaging the country’s reputation abroad.
“One of the most important problems of the country is freedom,” Babacan said in a television interview with CNN Turk, adding that “only the crime of thought is required” to land a person in jail.
The amendments were proposed after the Republican People’s Party, the largest opposition party, announced plans to transfer a number of its deputies to the two new parties so that they could enter the Turkish Parliament.
The accusation by Erdogan’s former ally who helped found the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)comes amid efforts by the ruling party and its ally, the National Movement Party, to amend electoral laws to prevent Babacan’s party and the Future Party, which was founded by former Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu, from entering parliament.
Babacan said that his party has a plan to counter Erdogan’s attempt to block him from participating in upcoming elections.
The opposition figure stressed that people will do what they have to to exercise their democratic rights and blamed Erdogan for destroying the country’s democratic system by shifting to a presidential system.
Babacan also blamed Erdogan for the deterioration of the Turkish economy, saying his flawed financial policies and “sterile foreign meddling” had burdened the state budget.
Babacan held leading positions in Erdogan’s cabinet throughout his meteoric rise to power, and was largely credited for leading Turkey through a period of economic boom in its first decade.
He quit the AKP in 2019, citing “deep differences” with the party and criticising the president’s 18-year “one-man rule.” In March, Babacan joined a group of defectors from the AKP to form his own political party, called “DEVA,” (Remedy Party).
In the interview with CNN Turk, Babacan promised to bring “freedom of thought” back to Turkey if his party is able to unseat Erdogan.
“Freeing those imprisoned for thought crimes will be our first act on the first day if we are elected to Parliament,” said Babacan.
Babacan represents a moderate, centre-right alternative to AKP for voters worried about the direction the ruling party has taken the country.
While the AKP originally led Turkey through a period of growth that US magazine The Economist dubbed an “economic miracle,” its record on human rights has wavered.
Hundreds of dissidents, including politicians, activists, civil society members and journalists have been jailed in the government’s crackdown on dissent.
Babacan’s comments come as rights groups like Amnesty International are urging Turkey’s AKP to release journalists, opposition politicians and activists from prison during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though Turkey recently let thousands out of prison, including violent criminals, due to the pandemic, detainees jailed for political crimes were not made eligible for early release.
Elections in Turkey are not scheduled until 2023, but there is speculation the government could call snap elections to strengthen its majority.
Though elections are a long way off, Babacan is already beginning to position himself as a challenger to Erdogan.
Speaking to CNN Turk on “those who find themselves imprisoned solely for crimes of thought,” Babacan said: “let them go free, and others will see and start thinking freely, too.”
Snapping his fingers, Babacan said: “all it takes is the political will.”