Turkey under the AK Party Rule: From Dominant Party Politics to Dominant Party System?

 






Insight Turkey Volume 17 No. 4, 2015

Introduction

Turkey has vast experience with electoral culture and a rich tradition of party politics. It is possible to trace the country’s familiarity with elections, political parties and the parliamentary system to either 1876 or 1908.1 Although the first and second constitutional periods of the late Ottoman Empire did not continue for a long time, the Republic inherited a notable culture of political parties and elections. It was this legacy that paved the way for the emergence of multiple political circles within the First National Assembly,2 which led to the War of Independence, and the Second National Assembly, its immediate successor. While the 1924 Constitution intended to nurture a political system with a multitude of political parties,3 a de facto single-party system was put in place when the Kemalist elites, fearing that political opposition would jeopardize their plans to establish a new state and construct a new national identity, shut down the Progressive Republican Party (Terakkiperver Cumhuriyet Fırkası) in 1925.4 Five years later, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk paved the way for the establishment of the Free Republican Party (Serbest Cumhuriyet Fırka) as a pseudo-opposition party, to make the single-party rule appear more democratic, only to renounce the plan 99 days later in order to prevent the potential political costs of providing an alternative to the ruling party.5

Although a de facto single-party system was in place between 1923 and 1946, Turkey held regular parliamentary and local elections in accordance with the terms, limits and requirements stipulated by the 1924 Constitution. The country, however, did not transition into a multi-party system until 1946. Meanwhile, it is important to note that the lack of judicial oversight, coupled with open ballots and secret counts in the 1946 elections, postponed the introduction of free and fair elections until 1950 –when the authorities allowed multiple political parties to participate in the race and fostered a competitive electoral environment. With the exception of brief transition periods after military coups, therefore, Turkey has been governed by a parliamentary system since the Republic’s foundation in 1923.

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