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TURKEY: The Party System from 1963 to 2000, by Irina A. Danilkina*

Throughout the century, Turkey has been moving towards democratization by establishing the competitive electoral process. In the 1920s, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republican People's Party, introduced the reforms, the purpose of which was to create a Western-style, modern republican and secular state. Thrice this process has been interrupted by military coups, two of which resulted in drastic changes of the political environment of the country. "The coups in 1960 and 1980 completely displaced the civilian government and produced the new constitutions to mark discontinuity with the past"; in 1971 there was just the forced replacement of Demirel government by the government of technocrats controlled by the military, but the political parties remained intact contrary to 1960 and 1980 ( Ozbudun, 1987: 353). Most of the time, Turkish politics has been significantly influenced by the military that reflected the society's general outlook on democracy and directed the process of democratization.

The party system in Turkey during 1950-1960 represents a substantial move towards a multiparty system. Despite its violent ending in 1960 marked by the military coup, the period till 1960 constitutes an important phase in the institutionalization of competitive elections in Turkey (Ozbudun, 1987: 342). The general elections under the new constitution of 1961, the most liberal Turkey ever had, were marked by a growing number of participants. However, despite such increased dispersion of political influence, politics continued to be dominated by a few political parties until the end of the 1980s to the beginning of the 1990s. From 1923 to 1946, the Republican People's Party (RPP), founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was the only party in Turkey; and from 1946 to the military coup in 1960, the RPP and the Democratic Party (DP), which had broken away from the RPP, constituted the only contesting political actors. This also had been true for the following elections. "Despite the representation of six to eight parties in the National Assembly in the 1961-1980 period, the total percentage of votes for the two major parties was almost always above 70 percent and sometimes close or above 80 percent." (Ozbudun, 1987: 345). Besides, the required threshold of 10% of national vote and bonus system prevented the allocation of seats to the minor party strengthening the position of major parties. It took a lot of time for Turkey to develop the system of legislative representation it has today.

In 1960 after the military coup and termination of the Democratic Party due to its "dictatorial" tendencies and resulting aggravation of political crisis, the new constitution of 1961 was adopted to ensure liberalism and democratization of Turkey. It provided for a bicameral Grand National Assembly comprising a National Assembly of 450 deputies directly elected for a term of four years and a Senate of 150 members directly elected for a term of six years (Gorvin, 1989: 361). The elections of 1961 were already held under the new constitution and were contested by four parties, but none of them secured an overall majority. The new constitution of 1961 banned Communist and religious parties and propaganda activities that was considered to be dangerous; it allowed for adversarial politics only within the limits of secular and republican state established by Ataturk (Ozbudun, 1987: 354). The Justice Party (JP) formed in 1961 and the Republican People's Party won the biggest share of the popular votes, and two other parties, the New Turkey and the National Action Party did not gain necessary 5% of seats to qualify for the purposes of ICPP. The New Turkey was formed right after the coup in 1961and sought the votes of the former DP supporters, but steadily declined in 1960s and merged with the Justice Party before the 1973 elections (Gorvin, 1989: 358).

In 1965 elections the Justice Party increased its share of seats in the National Assembly from 35% to 53%, while the legislative representation of the RPP felt from 38% to 30%. The increase of vote for the Justice Party was the "expression of sympathy with the policies of the former DP", and the desire of westernization (Gorvin, 1989: 362). In 1969 elections the distribution of seats remained almost the same, but in 1971 Demirel government (JP government) under the threat of being taken over by the military had to resign. In 1973 the support for the JP suddenly declined as the result of this inability of the government to control the increasing disorders in Turkey. The RPP that presented itself now as a social democratic party, strengthened its position by gaining 44% of seats, and the National Salvation Party received 11% of seats as the outcome of the coalition formed with the RPP, which had lasted however for just nine months. The new Democratic Party established in 1970--not to be confused with the DP that had been terminated in 1960--gained 10% of seats in their first parliamentary elections. The National Action Party and independents received 1% of seats each.

In June 1977 the support for the JP and the RPP increased, and the smaller parties lost the votes they had won in 1973. The government was formed from the members of "National Front" coalition comprising of the JP, the National Salvation Party and the National Action Party. At the end of 1977, it gave way to the coalition of the RPP, the DP and independents. However, already in October 1979, the government fell, and was succeeded by a minority JP government (Gorvin, 1989: 362). The leader of the RPP Ecevit resigned as prime minister, and Suleyman Demirel, the leader of JP, came to the power. The political situation seemed to be quite unstable resulting in the events of September 1980, when the leaders of the armed forces staged a coup dissolving the Grand National Assembly and political parties, and establishing a National Security Council. As in the case of 1960, the new constitution was adopted, but it significantly differed from 1961 constitution. The new constitution was less liberal and intended to limit the role of political parties by establishing relatively long transition period. During this time the power had to be shared by the military and temporally elected civilian authorities. As a result General Kenan Evren was appointed as a president.

The following elections under the new constitution were held only in 1983. The new constitution and the National Security Council imposed restriction on the participation of the political parties in the elections, especially on those that were active before the coup. The True Path Party that was regarded as a possible successor to the Justice Party and the Social Democratic Party that was considered as a possible successor to the Republican People's Party were banned from the 1983 elections. The Welfare Party established in 1983 by Necmettin Erbakan, the founder of the National Salvation Party, was the successor to the NSP, had the same Islamic fundamentalist direction, and was also banned from the election in 1983. In the 1987 and 1991 elections. it was not very successful and gained no seats in the National Assembly. As a result of these restrictions imposed by the National Security Council only three parties contested the elections in 1983. The Motherland Party (MP), founded in 1983, won 53% of seats in the parliament. Other two new parties also founded in 1983, the People's Party and the Nationalist Democracy Party won 29% and 18% respectively.

In 1987 election the Motherland Party once again hold the victory. Although it won just 36% of national vote, 65% of seats were allocated to the MP by the bonus system of seat allocation (Gorvin, 1989: 362). The 13% of seats were allocated to the True Path Party. Another party banned from the 1983 elections, the Social Democratic Party, merged with the People's Party in 1985 to form the Social Democratic Populist Party that obtained 22% of seats in 1987 elections.

In 1991 the RPP that had not contested elections because of political disturbances in Turkey returned on the stage after almost 10 years break. Its position was not as strong as it was before 1980; it obtained just 19% of the seats and ha declined since. The legislative representation of the Motherland Party dropped significantly to just 25% compared to the previous elections, and the position of the True Path Party strengthened, rising from 13% of seats in previous elections to 40% in 1991. The Democratic Left Party founded in 1985 started to gain increase in its position. In 1991 it gained just 1% of seats, but in the following elections the percentage rose.

The 1995 elections were marked by sudden rise of the Welfare Party. In 1995 it obtained 29% of seats leaving behind all major parties--the Motherland Party that obtained 24%, the True Path Party with 26% and the Democratic Left Party with 14% of seats. The RPP lost its past splendor and won just 9% of seats.

In 1998, the last general elections, the Welfare Party was closed down because of too explicit political nature of its religious policies, but the Virtue Party founded by Ysmail Alptekin was established to adhere to the same principles. In 1999 elections it took over the support for the Welfare Party and gained 20% of seats in the National Assembly. The National Action Party after a long break obtained 23% of seats, and the positions of the Motherland Party and the True Path Party has declined to 16% of seats and 15% of seats respectively. The 1999 elections were also marked by the rise of the Democratic Left Party. Its legislative representation rose form 14% of seats to 25% of seats in the National Assembly. The RPP failed to obtain any seats.

By the end of the century we see the establishment of a multiparty system in Turkey. Turkey has moved from the political system dominated by one party to the one represented by multiple political actors of the similar influence. This process has not been orderly, but rather painful, where the military played an important role. It directed rather indirectly the political development of the country towards the objectives laid down by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and thrice during this process it had to intervene using force to cut down the possibilities of moving away from democratization towards an oppressive regime. Such interventions seemed reasonable since for along time the politics in Turkey had been dominated by few major parties, which at some point were becoming dictatorial in character. Today, since many parties are represented in the National Assembly and multiparty system is more or less established, it is much less probable that there will be a need for a such intervention.

Continuity and Change in Political Parties, 1961-2000

Original Parties, from 1950-1961, still continuing to 2000

781 Republican People's Party. Founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, it was the only political party until 1946. In 1950 elections it was defeated by the DP, but after the coup of 1960, the RPP returned to the government under Inonu, but in coalitions with other parties (Janda, 1980: 880). By 1971, it lost much of its conservative membership, and presented itself as a social democratic party. Its position declined steadily from 1961 until 2000.

New Parties formed after 1962 and continuing to 2000

784 National Salvation Party/ Welfare Party/ Virtue Party. Founded in 1972 by Necmettin Erbakan in succession to the National Order Party, which had an explicit Islamic orientation and was banned by the Constitutional Court in 1972 for the use of religion for political purposes. National Order Party was reestablished as the National Salvation Party with the similar policies right before the elections in 1973. During 1973-1980 it contested elections in coalition with major parties; in 1973 elections it gained 11% of seats, and 5% of seats in 1977 elections. In 1980 the party was terminated, but it found its continuation as the Welfare Party found in 1983 by the same leader, Necmettin Erbakan. The party was not successful and improved its position only in 1995 election by gaining 29% of seats. However, already in 1998 it was closed. Its policies were taken over by the Virtue Party found by Ysmail Alptekin in 1997.

786 National Action Party. Originally known as the Republican Peasants‚ National Party, it adopted its current name in 1969 and grew up in 1970s under the leadership of former revolutionary Colonel Alpaslan Turkes. The party had a strong social and ideological base. Its ideology combined strong nationalism and anticommunism with strong emphasis on interventionist economic policies and use of militia-style youth organizations. The support for the NAP was not strong, but stable (12% of seats in 1961, 2% in 1965, 1% in 1973 and 4% in 1977). In 1999 its legislative representation rose to 23% of seats.

787 Motherland Party. Founded in 1983 the Motherland Party had among its policies the advocating of the free market economy and belonged to the group of parties formed after the coup of 1980. The party hold the majority in the National Assembly from 1983 until 1991, but since the elections in 1991 its position has declined steadily (in 1987 elections it reached its peak by obtaining 65% of seats in the National Assembly, but it received just 16% of seats in 1999 elections). In 1986 the MP merged with the Free Democratic Party founded in 1986 by the group of independent deputies.

788 True Path Party. Founded in 1983 as the post-coup party it was excluded form 1983 elections by the National Security Council due to its conservative orientation and relation to the terminated Justice Party (Gorvin, 1989: 357). In 1986 it merged with the Citizen's Party, and in 1987 elections it obtained parliamentary representation by winning 13% of seats in the National Assembly. Its position improved in 1991 elections, when 40% of seats were allocated to the True Path Party, but has declined steadily since. In 1999 elections it secured just 15% of seats.

789 People's Party/ Social Democratic Populist Party. Founded in 1983 out of center-left orientation it won 29% of seats in 1983 elections. In 1985 the People's Party merged with the Social Democratic Party and continued as the Social Democratic Populist Party.

7811 Democratic Left Party. Founded in 1985 by left-wing politicians to establish a credible alternative to the Motherland Party. Since 1991 elections it has increased its position from 1% of seats to 25% in 1999 elections.

Original Parties from 1950-1961 terminating before 2000

782 Democratic Party. Formed in January 1946 by a group which had broken away from the RPP it was in power for a decade from 1950 until 1960 when it was terminated after the military coup because of its growing oppressive and dictatorial character. One of the leaders of the DP, President Bayar was imprisoned, and the Prime Minister Menderes was executed. (Janda, 1980: 880).

New Parties formed after 1961 but terminating before 2000

783 Justice Party. Formed in 1961 after the coup of 1960 it attempted to draw support of those who voted for the DP that was terminated in 1960. It successfully contested the elections obtaining 53% of seats in 1965 elections and 57% of seats in 1969 elections under Suleyman Demirel. In 1971 the JP government had to resign as unable to handle the political situation in the country. Another Turkish party contesting for the votes of those who voted for the terminated Democratic Party, the New Turkey Party was formed in 1961 and merged with the Justice Party before 1973 elections. After 1977 elections the JP formed the government in coalition with other parties, but at the end of the year it had to resign after a vote of no confidence (Janda, 1980: 880). It returned to the office again in 1979 as a minority government, but already in 1980 after the military coup it was terminated.

785 Democratic Party. Founded in 1970, not to be confused with the Democratic Party formed in 1946 and terminated after the coup of 1960, it consisted of the dissident members of the JP. Its objectives were more right-wing than those of the JP, and it acted for the rehabilitation of the members of the former Democratic Party. In 1973 elections it obtained 10% of the seats in the National Assembly, but already in 1980 it was disbanded (Gorvin, 1989: 358).

7810 Nationalist Democracy Party. Founded in 1983 a right-wing party backed up by the military rulers, it won 18% of seats in 1983 elections, but was dissolved in 1986 (Ozbudun, 1987: 357).


Elections Around the World. "Elections in Turkey." July 20, 2000.

Gorvin, Ian, (ed.) 1989. Elections since 1945: a Worldwide Reference Compendium. ( Chicago, Ill., USA: St. James Press, 1989).

Janda, Kenneth, 1980. Political Parties: a Cross-National Survey. (New York, The Free Press: a Division of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1980)

Keesing's Contemporary Archives, 1983, 1987, 1991, 1995, 1999. ( New York, Scribner).

Ozbudun, Ergun and Weiner, Myron, (ed.) 1987. Competitive Elections in Developing Countries. (Duke University Press, 1987).

Parties and Elections in Europe. "Turkey." July, 2000.

Turkey. "Political Parties and the Election System." July 20, 2000.

*Participant in Northwestern University's Summer Camp for Political Party Research, June-August, 2000