Social Democratic Populist Party

Turkey Table of Contents

In early 1995, the junior partner in the Çiller government was the Social Democratic Populist Party, known by the Turkish acronym SHP, for Sosyal Demokrat Halkçi Parti. The SHP was one of several parties formed since 1983 that presented itself as an heir to the CHP. In fact, the SHP leader, Erdal Inönü, was the son of Ismet Inönü, a close associate of Atatürk and a cofounder of the CHP. The SHP had been created in 1985 when Inönü's Sodep (disqualified by the military from participating in the 1983 parliamentary elections) merged with Necdet Calp's Populist Party, which had been allowed to take part in the 1983 elections and had won the second largest number of assembly seats.

The decision to join the True Path Party in a coalition government brought to the fore the internal divisions within the SHP. Civil rights activists, both Turkish and Kurdish, opposed the SHP's participation in the government because they associated Demirel with government abuses of human rights during the late 1970s and doubted his willingness to terminate martial law in the Kurdish provinces. Consequently eighteen SHP deputies resigned from the party and, led by Ahmet Türk, established the People's Labor Party (Halkin Emek Partisi--HEP) in 1990 as a separate group in the National Assembly, although they agreed to continue voting with the SHP on certain issues. Because the HEP emphasized civil rights issues, its primary appeal was among Kurds, and a majority of the party's executives were Kurdish. The alliance with the HEP enabled the SHP to broaden its support base--the urban working-class neighborhoods of western and northeastern Turkey--to include the Kurdish areas of the southeast. Meanwhile the security situation in the southeast deteriorated as guerrillas affiliated with the PKK intensified attacks on government sites and personnel as part of a proclaimed effort to create a separate Kurdish state.

Many Turkish leaders, both civilian and military, tended not to distinguish between the HEP, which was committed to working for civil rights within the political process, and the PKK, which aimed to overthrow the political system through armed struggle. When the military initiated proceedings against HEP founders in 1992 for allegedly promoting "separatist propaganda," the HEP deputies accused the SHP of not actively protecting them from official persecution. The Constitutional Court outlawed the HEP in 1993 and its successor, the Democracy Party (Demokrasi Partisi--DEP), the following year. These developments, plus the arrest of DEP deputies in the National Assembly in March and June 1994, adversely affected the SHP's image, especially among its Kurdish supporters. Consequently the SHP did very poorly in the 1994 municipal council elections--virtually all SHP incumbents in the cities and towns of southeastern Turkey lost. It remained unclear in early 1995 whether the SHP could regain the confidence of its Kurdish base. A failure to do so would diminish the SHP's chances in the 1996 parliamentary elections to maintain its status as the third largest party in the National Assembly.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress