Political Parties

Turkey Table of Contents

Prior to 1950, the Republic of Turkey was essentially a one-party state ruled by the Republican People's Party, which had been created by Atatürk to implement the Six Arrows of Kemalism. Although there had been abortive experiments with "loyal opposition" parties in the mid-1920s and in 1930, it was not until 1946 that the CHP permitted political parties to form and contest elections, albeit in a politically controlled environment. The Democrat Party was founded in 1946 by CHP members who were dissatisfied with the authoritarian style of the CHP but who otherwise supported the party's Kemalist principles. The DP emphasized the need to end various restrictions on personal freedom so that Turkey could become a democracy. Reform of laws governing political parties and electoral activities--measures that would enable the DP to compete on an equal basis with the CHP--were enacted prior to the 1950 parliamentary elections. Consequently, those elections were the first free ones since the founding of the republic in 1923. The DP won a large majority of seats in the assembly and thus took over the government from the CHP.

The DP retained control of the government throughout the 1950s, a period during which it enacted legislation that restricted news media freedom and various civil liberties. As the DP steadily became less tolerant of dissent, the CHP gradually moved in the opposite direction, abandoning its authoritarian stance and becoming an advocate of civil rights. The DP's efforts to suppress opposition to its policies provoked a political crisis that culminated in a May 1960 military coup. The DP subsequently was dissolved, but the Justice Party, which was established in 1961, was widely perceived as its successor and attracted most of its supporters. In the 1961 parliamentary elections that led to the restoration of civilian government, the Justice Party won the second largest number of seats and thus established itself as the principal competitor of the CHP, which had won a plurality of seats. In the subsequent nineteen years, the rivalry between the Justice Party and the CHP remained a significant feature of Turkish politics. Although both parties proclaimed their loyalty to Kemalist ideals, they evolved distinct ideological positions. Süleyman Demirel, who became leader of the Justice Party in 1964, favored economic policies that benefited private entrepreneurs and industrialists. In contrast, Bülent Ecevit, who became leader of the CHP in 1965, believed in a form of democratic socialism that included government intervention aimed at regulating private business and protecting workers and consumers. The views of these two men and the positions of their respective parties became increasingly polarized after 1972.

The inability of either the Justice Party or the CHP to win parliamentary majorities and the refusal of both Demirel and Ecevit to cooperate politically necessitated the formation of numerous coalition and minority-party governments. These governments proved ineffective at devising policies to cope with Turkey's economic and social problems, which became steadily more serious throughout the 1970s. Various groups on the extreme right and the extreme left formed illegal political organizations that resorted to violence in pursuit of their objectives, which for certain groups included the overthrow of the government. The apparent inability of governments--whether dominated by the Justice Party or by the CHP--to control increasing terrorism in urban areas contributed to a general sense of insecurity and crisis and served as the catalyst for the 1980 coup. Blaming politicians for the country's political impasse, the military sought to end partisan politics by dissolving the old parties and banning all activity by the politicians deemed responsible for the crisis. Although the formation of new parties was authorized in 1983, none was allowed to use the name of any of the banned parties from the precoup past. Nevertheless, most of Turkey's existing parties in early 1995 were transparent continuations of earlier parties.

True Path Party
Social Democratic Populist Party
Motherland Party
Welfare Party
Democratic Left Party

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress