Motherland Party

Turkey Table of Contents

In early 1995, the Motherland Party (Anavatan Partisi--ANAP) was the main parliamentary opposition party, after having served as the governing party from 1983 to 1991. Turgut Özal founded the Motherland Party in May 1983, and his personality and energy were instrumental to the party's subsequent success. Even after Özal officially resigned as party leader in 1989 to become president, his influence--and that of his wife and brothers--continued in Motherland Party affairs. For example, Özal handpicked his successor as party leader, Yildirim Akbulut. However, after Akbulut proved ineffective, both as party chair and as prime minister, Özal pressured him to resign in June 1991. In anticipation of the forthcoming parliamentary elections, Özal approved the younger and more dynamic Mesut Yilmaz as Akbulut's successor. Yilmaz campaigned energetically, used his position as prime minister to woo voters with incentives such as wage increases for public-sector employees, and performed well against other political leaders in Turkey's first-ever televised political debate. However, the Motherland Party's total share of the national vote in the October 1991 balloting fell by 12 percent compared to 1987, and the party won sixty-three fewer assembly seats than its rival, the True Path Party.

The Motherland Party's policies and constituency were similar to those of the True Path Party, but the intense personal rivalry between Demirel and Özal had precluded political cooperation between the two parties prior to Özal's death in 1993. The president's death represented both a major loss and a potential opportunity for the Motherland Party. The party's cohesion had depended on the force of Özal's personality, and in early 1995 it was unclear whether Yilmaz would succeed in transforming the Motherland Party into an effective organization based on a coherent political program and ideology. In addition, because the party's past electoral strength had derived from Özal's own popular appeal, it was not evident what long-term impact his death would have. Despite Yilmaz's relative youth and limited political experience, he appeared to be the party's chief asset, and even before Özal's death he had been trying to chart a course independent of the party's influential founder. Nevertheless, many members were dissatisfied with Yilmaz's leadership; in late 1992 and early 1993, more than fifteen Motherland Party deputies, citing differences with Yilmaz, resigned from the party in a move that reduced its overall strength in the National Assembly to fewer than 100 seats. More than fifty former deputies, including five founding members of the party, also resigned to demonstrate their opposition to Yilmaz. Yilmaz now faced the challenge of developing a new party identity that would appeal to a broader constituency; otherwise the Motherland Party would expend all its energies competing with the ideologically similar True Path Party.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress