Will the DEVA party be the remedy to Turkey's woes?

The launching of Ali Babacan's DEVA party was overshadowed by the news that of a first Coronavirus case in Turkey. Still, the party manifesto and Babacan's opening speech gave an indication to the party's strategy. Rather than snatching votes from the CHP, İYİ Party or the HDP, DEVA is likely to seek votes from the AKP and the MHP.

We all know how governments steer public interest, by using the media they control. For this reason, as Erdoğan and Putin shook hands last week on Idlib and declared a ceasefire, everyone who closely follows current affairs made the same comment: as of the following Monday, only one issue will prevail, the Coronavirus. Neither Idlib nor Babacan's new party will capture anyone's attention.

Pro-government media accused former deputy prime minister Ali Babacan and his team of cowardice for their "covert actions." It was only hours before the new party, the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) - which means "remedy" in Turkish - was to meet the press when the Health Minister disclosed the first Corona case in Turkey. From that moment on, a psychosis took over the entire country and began to scramble for cologne. The new party executives undoubtedly knew this would happen. Still, as Babacan delivered his first speech as the head of DEVA, #DEVA was the top trending topic in Twitter. 

Same hotel as 19 years ago 

DEVA's launching ceremony was held at the same hotel, Bilkent Hotel, the venue where the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) founding ceremony was held 19 years ago.

Those who knew both Babacan and his wife Zeynep Babacan from the first years of AK Party argued they were "defying the years." But upon seeing some former bureaucrats and politicians, one cannot but think that time does not treat everyone equally.

DEVA has a 35 percent woman and 20 percent youth quota as well as a 1 percent handicapped quota. In their launching ceremony, the high number of women and young people was apparent. Young people immediately approached us when they saw our Press cards. Their joint dream was for a political approach that respects the coexistence of social segments despite their differences. Most of them were university students. When I asked them if they had ever cast a vote, the majority of them had first voted during the March 31 local elections. Others first voted during the 2018 general elections. 

No mainstream media 

Only a handful of journalists from mainstream media covered the event. As a former AK Party politician put it: “It is not only the journalists who were afraid to attend. There are several politicians who want to join us but prefer to wait for a little while. I'm sure they will also come soon enough.” 

Because of the Corona psychosis, people at the event refrained from shaking hands, though I only saw three people wearing a mask. A member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) I saw before the ceremony said the party was pondering on what to do before their annual congress in April going over several options including one without audiences or postponing. Corona has obviously taken its place as the first agenda point in politics. 

A politician from the DEVA party told me the claims that tensions divided Abdullah Gül and Ali Babacan were exaggerated. “There could be minor problems between the two figures but not to the extent that they constitute any blocks on our way," the politician told me. He added that "some of our colleagues are mentioned in the news as reacting to not being included in the founders’ committee, but you will see some of them in the executive organs of the party.” 

Education in the mother tongue  

One of the founders of DEVA, Ramiz Ongun had been a candidate for the leadership of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) three times. One wonders how the clause of “education in mother tongue” can be included in the program of the party he has contributed in founding.

I asked a politician whether or not Ramiz Ongun had fought against this in meetings, the answer was that there had been a discussion about it and there was a consensus that this was "pedagogic requirement." To be more precise, the clause in the party program was "As the Democracy and Progress Party, we find it wrong that education in one's mother tongue has evolved into an issue of conflict. On condition that our official and joint language - Turkish - should be taught properly, we regard the recognition of cultural differences of our citizens as a fundamental human right and a pedagogic requirement. In this respect, we aim to make the necessary arrangements within the scope of the right to mother tongue for all of our citizens to use and develop their mother tongues."

I met a young person during the meeting who defined himself a “A true Turkish nationalist.” He surprised everybody who was listening by saying, “I told our founders and I will keep telling them. Without solving the Kurdish issue, this country will not be able to ride out the storm. We, the Turks, are the ones responsible of this issue.”

Most applauded parts of speech

During Ali Babacan’s speech, it was the mention of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, that received the biggest applause. Another part drew much applause when he said “Money is easy. There is a lot of money in the world. There is also a lot of money in Turkey.” 

Naturally, the speech was long, and Babacan’s tempo withered after a while. He was at the top of his performance during live broadcasts in recent weeks. He seemingly needs some time to warm up to the prompter. 

Babacan used a secular language all throughout his speech, far from the Islamic rhetoric. The party manifesto also reflected this preference. During the founding stage of the party, it was emphasized that they were also contacting social democratic figures, though nothing in the party manifesto suggested this.

Indeed, there are no social democrats among the founders. But will there be any leftists in the party's executive boards? The fact that there are no leftists in the new party is not something opposing the Nation Alliance, made up of Republican People's Party (CHP), the İyi Party (İYİ), the Felicity Party (SP), and the Democratic Party (DP).

On the contrary, drawing those votes from the CHP to the DEVA does not have a mathematical contribution to the alliance. For this reason, it seems logical that DEVA caters to the public with staff likely to attract votes from the AK Party and the MHP, not the CHP, İYİ Party or the HDP.