Contemporary Turkish politics have been shaken by a number of destabilizing factors which have redefined its traditional spectrum of parties, voter loyalties, and values. Cultural cleavages seemingly emerged to replace an earlier socioeconomic divide of the public opinion in the Turkish party system.
These factors include deepening international crises in the Balkans and Caucasus, the emerging challenge of ethnic nationalism, the effective political mobilization of Islamic xenophobia, and cultural splits. Economic mishaps of 1994 further contributed to a politicocultural crisis. Consequently, the center of gravity in public opinion seems to have sharply moved away from the center to between the centerright and far right of the spectrum.
TURKISH POLITICAL PARTIES DISCUSSED IN THIS ARTICLE
Left of Center [social democratic]
Republican People’s Party (RPP)
Democratic Left Party (DLP)
Democratic Party (DP) [1950s]
Democratic Turkey Party (DTP) [1997- ]
Justice Party (JP) [1961-1980]
Motherland Party (MP)
True Path Party (TPP)
Welfare Party (WP) [Islamic, successor to the National Salvation Party (NSP) of the 1970s]
National Action Party (NAP) [ultraTurkish nationalist]
Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) [Kurdish nationalist]
One root of this situation has been the politics of coalition building to form Turkish governments. During the 1960s and 1970s, Turkish politics was dominated by the competition between the leftofcenter Republican Peoples Party (RPP) and the rightofcenter Justice Party (JP). The JP relative hegemony during the 1960s was undercut by electoral laws favoring proportional representation, an internal split, and the March 12, 1971 military coup. The 1973 and 1977 elections was won by the RPP, led by Bulent Ecevit. While the RPP had founded the Turkish Republic in the 1920s, it was now made into a democratic left, antiestablishment party.
In their rivalry, the RPP and JP each built up a partner on the rightist end of the political spectrum:
The National Salvation Party (NSP) (whose predecessor was outlawed by the Constitutional Court) championed a new society based on the Islamic traditional order, combining Sharia law, Ottoman grandeur, and Arab nationalism. The RPP brought it into a twoparty coalition, 19731974. Ironically, the party that established Turkish political secularism now opened the door to Islamic forces.
The Nationalist Action Party (NAP), boosted by the JP, was an ethnic nationalist, antiCommunist party. The RPP claimed NAP ideology had a fascist aspect, and the party had a reputation for violent activity. Nonetheless, the JP found it a cooperative partner.
The RPPNSP coalition failed to be stable. The two partners discovered that their sociocultural views were too irreconcilable to cooperate. Furthermore, the NSP had been an irresponsible coalition party. Seeing little chance of winning elections, it promised a utopia to the electorate. Once in power it continued to act with a distaste for realism. Prime Minister Ecevit’s handling of the 1974 Cyprus crisis had made him a national hero. The RPP leadership believed it could call early elections, get rid of its coalition partner, and establish a purely RPP government.
But this ploy did not work and instead a new JPNAPNSP coalition government emerged to rule Turkey until 1977. These partners disagreed on economics but were likeminded on cultural issues. They all purported to represent the values of the Periphery, supporting traditional values as symbolized in religion (Islam), tradition, nationalism close to chauvinism, and anticommunism.
From 1975 on, the wave of political protest rose to new heights. Politically motivated assassinations became a daily and national affair by 1977. The 1977 elections did not resolve the political situation. The RPP vote reach a high but was not enough to give it a majority. Instead, the RPP took the novel approach of “convincing” 11 Members of parliament from the JP to join it and gave each of them a cabinet post. In effect, this new RPP government was a coalition with 11 oneman parties!
The Turkish economy, pressed by rising oil prices and a U.S. embargo, showed signs of deepening recession (Barkey, 1984: 61). In early 1979, foreign currency reserves evaporated and there were many shortages. After humiliating defeats in the Fall 1979 byelections, the RPP resigned and the old JPNSPNAP coalition reemerged, taking drastic measures to solve the economic crisis and a program to liberalize the economy (Ibid.: 6163).
Political violence continually rose, with 25 people dying each day by summer 1980. Plagued by deadlocks on several issues, including electing a new president, parliament stopped functioning. Again, the military intervened to reestablish order and reform the constitutional system. In the opinion of the military government of 198083 the coalition government was the fount of most ills in Turkish politics.
Thus, when the military regime designed a new Constitution, electoral law, and political parties’ act, it sought to ensure the ominous danger of coalition governments would not return. To leave nothing to chance in the 1983 elections, the authorities vetoed all political parties they thought damaged the Turkish political system.
While the military did its job well in combatting coalitionsboth the 1983 and 1987 elections were won by a single partyit was less happy in 1983 that this party was the one established without official approval, the Motherland Party (MP). Afterward, however the system reverted and the 1990s once again become a decade of coalition governments.
Why does the Turkish political system have this problem with coalitions? Why cannot the Turkish political elite accept them and find ways of using them to establish successful governments? And why can’t Turkey be Ruled without Coalition Governments?
SOCIO-CULTURAL CLEAVAGES AND PARTY PREFERENCE
In the 1990s, the impact of rapid social mobilization, deepening cultural cleavages, and a disruption in intergenerational political socialization resulted in the fragmentation and volatility of the Turkish electorate. An especially important factor accounting for most variance in party preference in Turkey is “religiosity,” which in turn is deeply influenced by length and type of formal education (Kalaycioglu, 1994a: passim).
The educational career seems to determine an individual’s cultural values in Turkey (Yalman, 1973: 152). Those attending a public middle school, public lycee or secular private high school are socialized into being laicist. If a person attends a religious vocational middle school and lycee, one is socialized into a proSharia world view. Since both systems are supervised by the Ministry of National Education, the state seems to oversee the division of Turkey’s population into two group’s that deeply differ over their images of a Good Society.
That cultural divide is nothing new in Turkish society. It was inherited from the Ottoman Empire (Mardin, 1975). The Republican regime, considering the duality of culture in the Ottoman Empire as a great hurdle to Turkey’s social development and modernization, tried to eradicate it by outlawing non-formal religious educational institutions in the 19251946 period.
During the 1950s, the Democratic party (DP) mobilized voters by suggesting their children could be educated to become professional, modern people without losing their “moral rectitude,” meaning their religioncoated rural/folk culture, or looking down on their parents (Kiray and Hinderink, 1970). The solution was to be religious vocational schools. Gradually, these schools’ role expanded to represent a life style and world view for those attending them.
DISRUPTION IN POLITICAL SOCIALIZATION
The military coup of September 12, 1980, outlawed all politicaparties and banned their top leaders from political activity up to ten years. Thus, in 1983 none of the older parties could enter the elections. Eventually the older generation of politicians organized their own parties and participated in the 1987 elections. By then their former and younger associates had established new parties.
Under those circumstances, the voters’ loyalties had been severely shaken. Their allegiance was divided between former leaders and newly established parties. In addition, the older generation of voters could no longer be role models for their offspring. Intergenerational party identification process was thoroughly disrupted. Given Turkey’s rapid population growth rate, many young voters had no party identification. When we add the number of older voters in a state of confusion to the newcomers, Turkey suddenly had an upsurge of independent voters, and an increase in voter volatility. Finally, votes were fragmented between parties with similar platforms and programs (see Erguder, 1988: passim). The 1990s further exacerbated the electorate’s fragmentation and volatility. Only now does a voter realignment seem to be taking place.
The dualism in Turkish culture is further complicated by rapid social mobilization(1). The migration of rural masses to cities has converted a country of peasants (90% in 1923), into one of urban dwellers (60% in 1995) (State Institute of Statistics). Today, 61% of the inhabitants of Istanbul are villageborn (Koksal and Kara, 1989: passim). Exposure to mass media (2) has also introduced new values, expectations, and life styles. Increased tourism led to more interaction with peoples from foreign land. Turkish guest workers in Europe added new components to Turkish culture. Finally, Turkish industry put refrigerators, washing machines, other appliances, and cars into many households(3).
Bridging the gap between rural and urban lifestyles works both ways. (Esmer, Fisek, Kalaycioglu, 1987: Chap. 2). While rural people are more exposed to the modernizing influences of the economy and TV (Kiray and Hinderink, 1970), rural culture is increasingly incorporated into urban areas through migration in music, language, and other ways (Karpat, cf. Heper, 1983: 4b). Squatter settlements of the cities provide a bridge between these two areas.
However, there are still serious differences between cities and villagesvarying between regionsin terms of education, health, job opportunities and income. (Esmer et. al., 1987: 1019). The chance of obtaining educational and occupational credentials for a person to gain and sustain a high income lifestyle is more in the metropolitan areas and western parts of the country (Ibid.: Chap. 2).
Studies indicate that most squatter settlement (gecekondu) dwellers are from peasant origins. It is therefore not surprising to discover that these people cling on to their peasant norms, habits, and attitudes (Karpat, 1976: 432 ff). It was interesting to find out that a large proportion of the Turkish households still produce their own food supplies at home, a typical peasant activity continuing in the cities of the mid1980s (Esmer et. al, 1987: 24 ff).
Family, kinship, or other primordial ties, such as hemsehrilik(4), help maintain village values in the urban environment. Family seems to be a buffer against socioeconomic or political challenges such as unemployment, inflation (Ibid.), or police persecution. It also encapsulates traditional values, such as the value of girls, which seem to be quite resilient to change in the economic conditions of the squatter settlements (Kiray, cf. Heper, 1983: 54).
Nevertheless, the rural migrants interact with the city culture. They find employment in the modern sectors of the city. Few are content with the status of bluecollar laborer. Most yearn for a small business of their own. The rural household economy seems to be highly attractive for them (Heper, 1983: 55, Esmer at. al, 1987). The older generation seem to prefer their children get some “positive science” education and even tend to encourage their daughters to get similar education (Heper, 1983: 46) though without losing their “morality,” which means an attachment to their parents’ traditional values.
Under the impact of rapid social mobilization and mass rural migration, cities have begun to experience a decline of their communal interactions and culture, which simultaneously brings political apathy and a volatility among voters. (Kalaycioglu, 1983 and 1994b: 518).
CHALLENGES OF THE 1990s: NEW CRISES; SOCIO-CULTURAL CLEAVAGES
The core values of Turkish political culture have been shaped by the nationalist, secularizing cultural reforms of the 1920s and the 1930s, the Soviet threat of the 1940s (which culminated in closer ties with Western Europe), the democratization drive and the social mobilization of the post1950 period. However, by the end of the 1980s and early 1990s, dramatic changes in international relations ushered in a new series of challenges for Turkey. The PanArabist leader of Iraq, Saddam Hussein moved first in seizing Kuwait in 1990. The subsequent war and crisis showed that the threat for Turkey was shifting from a superpower to her north to other revisionist neighbors on her south.
The MP government of 1990 decided to ally Turkey with the international coalition to push Iraq out of Kuwait. Earlier hostile gestures by Saddam Hussein toward Turkey helped convince the government that Iraq was planning on a major military campaign against her neighbors, including Turkey. Therefore, it concluded that aiding an international effort against the Iraqi regime was the most effective way to combat the newly emerging threat of Iraqi revisionism.
Although Iraq was heavily punished, similar acts of seizing territory by Armenia in Azerbaijan, or Serbia in BosniaHerzegovina were not stopped by international action. These cases directly influenced Turkey, given its cultural and historical links to Azeris and Bosnians. Effective lobbies for both groups frequently appearedspeaking comprehensible Turkishin the media urging Turkey to help end their sufferings. This development encouraged most citizens of Turkey to reconsider those ingredients defining Turkishness. They wanted to know whether it had something to do with bloodties (being from the same stock as the Abkhaz, Circassians, Bosnians, etc.); faith (being Muslim, or Sunni Muslim, or SunniHanefi Muslim); geography, culture, history, image of a Good Society, a wish to live together in the future, or some combination of all or some of these properties. With the fading appeal of social class as a category of allegiance, identitybased concerns reemerged to assert their weight in Turkish society and culture.
Radical groups exploited the emerging confusion and very visible increase in chauvinism and xenophobia. The Islamic Welfare Party (WP) claimed the new world order had one standard for “Muslim” Iraq’s act of aggression; another for Armenian and Serb aggressions against Muslim peoples. They argued that when the victims are Muslims, Europeans bicker but when a Muslim leader acts like Yugoslavia did his country is attacked. The WP rejects the secular basis of republicanism and proposes to replace it with an Islamic “just order,” a return to the glorious Ottoman past, and an antiWest foreign policy urging Islamic solidarity against Zionist Israeli and U.S. conspiracies. It was founded after the 1983 elections to replace the NSP, closed down like other old parties by the military government. Similarly, the Nationalist Action Party (NAP) was revived and gained support for its program of a panTurkist foreign policy and ethnic nationalism.
While the WP received 7% and the NAP obtained 3% of the vote in the 1987 national elections, these totals rose to 19.8% and 8.8% respectively in March 1994 provincial council elections (Sertel and Kalaycioglu, 1995: 2330). In the national elections the WP obtained 21.3% and the NAP received 7.7% of the vote. The WP’s two main sources of growing support are in the gecekondu (shanty town) settlements, at the cutting edge of social and cultural instaband in those areas most hardhit by the Kurdish revolt.
The gecekondu dwellers’ allegiances have shifted sharply over time. They supported the rightofcenter Democratic Party in the 1950s, the rightofcenter JP in the 1960s, and the leftofcenter RPP and some the fringe MarxistLeninist groups in the polls during the 1970s. By 1983 their electoral support shifted toward the rightofcenter, neoliberal MP. But the MP governments’ seeming support of laissezfaire capitalism (through which a few got much better off, but most lost heavily) and the postGulf War economic troubles led to disillusionment by 1989. That year, social democrats scored a major victory by winning 55 out of the 67 major cities in local elections, but plagued with corruption and mismanagement, the left (as well as the MP) lost votes in the 1991 national elections (Erder, et. al, 1995: 15 ff).
The stage was set for the WP’s rise. It somehow had lots of funds to distribute in these areas in exchange for supporters who believe it is the only party that can solve chronic high inflation and promote democracy and human rights (Erder, et. al., 1995: xviii). In this context, moderation began to seem meek and ineffective. The economic failures of the 1980s gave the term “liberal” a bad reputation, while the secular parties on the left declined. The RPP never fully recovered from the army’s ban. After 15 years of complex maneuvers, splits, and mergers, there emerged the new RPP and the Democratic Left Party (DLP). Both were weakened by voters’ support for rightofcenter parties (Erder, et. al., 1995: 1522); the rise of radical, former fringe parties; and their own infighting.
There have been parallel trends for the rightofcenter parties, the MP and the Truth Path Party (TPP). The TPP and MP had a series of leadership crises and internal turmoil, occurring at a most opportune time for the WP and the NAP. First, Prime Minister Turgut Ozal, resigned to become president. When he died suddenly in Spring 1993, Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel, leader of the TPP, succeeded him. Younger, relatively inexperienced leaders took over (see Sertel and Kalaycioglu, 1995: 27). New inexperienced leaders seemed to have lacked the skills to manage the public bureaucracy or handle inflationwhich grew from 70% annually from the end of 1993 to 150% a year by the end of 1994or rising unemployment. (The Turkish Economy ’95, 1995: 28, 6569). The 1994 national elections showed a turn by many voters to the WP.
In the meantime, the terror campaign of the Worker’s Party of Kurdistan (PKK) also contributed to growing cultural fault lines in Turkish politics. Although Turkish nationalism had come from religious and ethnic roots, it had generally grown into a civic form from the 1920s on. In the liberal environment of the 1960s and the 1970s the ethnic nationalist NAP was a marginal movement which (though participating in coalition governments of the 19751980 era) never obtained over 8% of the national vote (Kalaycioglu, 1993: 213215).
The PKK’s revolt, however, questioned the civic substance of Turkish nationalism, that “Turk” was a political identity encompassing all ethnic groups in Turkey, whether Circassian, Azeri, Bosnian, Albanian, Georgian, Laz, or Kurdish in origin. PKK spokespersons, sympathizers, and Kurdish political pundits started to argue and even press for definitions of the Turkish nation, nationality, homeland, etc. by reference to ethnicity. They said that Kurds and Turks were different groups. Ataturk’s formulation: “Happy is s/he who declares him(her)self to be a Turk” indicated that Turkishness is a function of citizenship, not any primordial characteristic. Kurdish and Turkish ultra-nationalists were confronting this concept by the mid-1980s (for an excellent discussion, see Mango, 1994a: 3153; Mango, 1994b: 975997).
Events strengthened the NAP and other ultranationalists’ claims ironically echoing the PKKthat “Turk” is indeed an ethnic term. The upsurge of ethnic nationalism in the Balkans and the Caucasus, and the PKK’s increasing activities in Turkey (with backing from neighboring countries and Cold War allies of Turkey) further contributed to an overall cultural divide between those who identify themselves as Kurds and others in Turkey. The NAP began to emerge as a political counterforce to the PKK, and KurdishTurkish social relations were influenced by the debate between Kurdish and Turkish chauvinists.
The WP also proposed a new stand on the issue of “nationalism,” arguing that nation (millet) should be redefined in the original Ottoman sense to mean “religious (Islamic) community.” Hence, Kurds and Turks may represent ethnic communities but since both are Sunni Muslims, they can coexist in the harmony of a religious framework. Besides, Islam sees all ethnic claims and differences as preIslamic, uncivilized, pagan forms. As devout Muslims both communities are to unite in a “supraethnic” religious community of the “Sunni Millet” of Turkey. The WP thus claimed it could render the entire issue of ethnic nationalism irrelevant (Saribay, 1994: 201ff). This strategy worked among voters. Much of the WP’s increasing support comes from terrorstricken areas of southeastern and eastern Turkey. Voting patterns in 1994 local and 1995 national elections indicate the WP is the party that Kurds favor most (Ibid.: 201215). Ironically,
Sunni radicalism seems to foster unity, while laicism coupled with ethnic nationalist policies do not constrain ethnic conflict.
THE WPTPP COALITION AND BEYOND
The 1955 elections brought about another messy outcome. This time, the party controlling the plurality of the seats in parliament turned out to be the WP. Both the MP and the TPP, however, had enough seats to form a coalition. They would appear to be ideal partners. They occupy more or less the same ideological space on the leftright spectrum in Turkish public opinion, propose similar economic policies, and their foreign policy postures are alike.
Yet this similarity sabotaged cooperation. The MP and the TPP compete for the same voters, each arguing the other party is unnecessary. The TPP argued the MP was the military regime’s concoction to block temporarily the old political elite’s return. But now its mission is over. Likewise, MP leaders argued that the TPP’s main goal was to get Mr. Demirel elected as prime minister and then president. With this accomplished, the TPP has no more function. In the 1995 election the MP’s campaign attacked the corruption of TPP leaders, and especially Tansu Ciller. The TPP claimed that Mesut Yilmaz, the MP leader, lacked the competence to be prime minister. The MP obtained more votes and fewer parliamentary seats than the TPP. Thus, which party’s leader would form a coalition and be prime minister was in dispute. Finally, after some unsuccessful talks, the MP and the TPP were able to form a coalition, with Yilmaz as prime minister.
The WP, the main opposition party, raised votes of confidence against Ciller, who seemed to have violated the law more than a few times. The MP did not back her against charges it had also made during he campaign. The Constitutional Court accepted a WP appeal that the government had not legally survived a vote of confidence and declared the MPTPP coalition illegal. The TPP immediately walked out to forge a new coalition with the WP in July 1996. For the first time in the republic’s history, an Islamic fundamentalist, Necmettin Erbakan, was prime minister.
Discovering a common ground for the WPTPP coalition is a daunting task. The TPP’s leader had argued vehemently during the 1995 elections that the WP was no better than Maoists and its economic program resembled Castro’s Cuba. She promised never to form a coalition with the WP, as an urban, professional woman who believed in secular values. The WP accused the TPP as evil, illegitimate “emulators of the West,” whereas the WP stood for justice and God.
The opposition parties immediately branded this new TPPWP government a partnership of coverup. The WP defended Ciller at a parliamentary commission of inquiry established when it deshe be investigated. Accusations of political corruption piled up, involving the WP itself as well as Ciller’s TPP. Shortterm interest, patronage, and nepotism seemed to be reigning in an amoral political milieu.
The WPTPP government particularly upset the defense and national security establishments who saw its policies and rapprochement with Iran as a major threat to political stability. A series of provocations culminated in a speech by the WP mayor of the small town of Sincan, calling for Islamic revolution in the presence of Iran’s ambassador. At the same meeting a play was staged in which the military was accused of “oppressing the people.” The “people” were called to rise up against the regime to save the country and eventually liberate Jerusalem. Leaders and “martyrs” of Hezbollah and Hamas were honored. This incident was the last straw.
On February 28, 1997 the National Security Council (NSC) met to deliberate its new threat perceptions in the 1990s(5). The NSC decided to advise the government that the greatest threat to national solidarity no longer emanated from the Kurdish PKK, but from Islamic fundamentalists and their foreign supporters. It suggested a series of steps to cope with the new threat. The media reported that the suggested measures caused serious problem for Prime Minister Erbakan during the meeting. He seemed to have procrastinated on signing the NSC resolutions before finally acceding. And the resolutions also caused friction in the Cabinet.
Aside from this external pressure, by Spring 1997 the WP and TPP were also finding it increasingly difficult to work together. The Cabinet failed to meet for long periods. How to handle the NSC resolutions seemed an insoluble problem for the government. Meanwhile, the military establishment, parliamentary opposition, trade unions, and much of the economic elite united to oppose the WPTPP coalition. As political tension peaked, the coalition partners tried to save themselves by a thorough Cabinet reshuffle They agreed on Erbakan’s resignation on June 18, 1997, and replacement by Deputy Prime Minister and TPP leader Ciller.
The president named the leader of the main opposition party, Mesut Yilmaz, the new prime minister. Yilmaz was able to assemble a new coalition government which won a parliamentary vote of confidence in July 1997. The new coalition consisted of the MP, DLP, and the Democratic Turkey party(6). The RPP provides parliamentary support without formally taking part in the Cabinet.
The current coalition brings together the secular, nationalist left and liberalconservative rightwing parties, reviving the grand coalitions of the 19611965 and 19911995 periods. It has a limited mandate to carry out longdelayed political reforms, reestablishing confidence in government, and calling early national and local elections some time in 1998. If moderates win a majority, Turkey will likely have a four to fiveyear period to put its house in order. If the extreme right and left wing parties win a plurality, the country is likely to experience another period of political tension, confrontation, and instability.
The longerterm paradox is that Turkey seems fated to be ruled by coalitions, yet these turn out to be shortlived, incompetent regimes, having difficulty in governing as partners start bickering and break up.
WHY CANNOT TURKEY BE RULED BY COALITIONS?
First, the Turkish political elite plays by rules based on very shortterm interest calculations. They seem to be staunch believers in the Keynesian dictum that “in the longrun all of us are dead.” The result a form of politics, a noholds’barred struggle to stay in power which I call “amoral partyism” (Kalaycioglu, 1988: 166). In this environment, democratic norms and institutions cannot take root, while leaders become more important than rules or institutions. This political culture stems from deep historic pattern of the “State” in Turkey.
Second, the nature of the current Turkish political regime is neither modern (legal, rational), nor traditional but somewhere in between. It would be most appropriate to refer to it as neopatrimonial. It looks like a modern system, with all its institutions and codified laws. However, the political elite tends not to value the laws unless they can be used in their political struggles. Prime Minister Ozal once argued that “violating the Constitution once does not matter.” The political institutions of democracy seem not be treated any better.
Third, being patronage mechanisms, the political parties are inclined to stay in government to reap emoluments from the state budget for their clients. They are not inhibited by any major sets of values or institutional designs from bending the rules in using their fiscal authority. The people are unconcerned about the fiscal rectitude of their rulers so long as they are able to receive benefits from the government. In fact, the most important political scandal of 1996 erupted over the use of the prime minister’s office “petty cash” account by Ciller. The implications were very dire. However, due to the WP coverup we do not yet know how great was her disregard of the law was.
Finally, since principles and ideology do not matter relative to shortterm interests, the coalitions formed need not pay any notice to ideological gaps between the parties. But coalitions of parties representing opposing sides of the kulturkampf in Turkish politics produce governments unable to function. A ministry in one party’s hands declares a policy and another ministry held by its partner declares a diametrically opposite policy on the same day. In the resulting confusion, either nothing gets done or irreconcilable policies are implemented as if they complement each other. Turkish foreign policy seems to demonstrate this problem during the WPTPP coalition of 19961997.
CONJECTURES AND CONCLUSIONS
The Turkish political system is deeply influenced by rapid social mobilization, changes of constitutional designs, the Cold War’s end, and ethnic strife. All those factors have contributed to a deepening rift based on ethnicity and religiosity. These cultural fault lines have contributed to the electorate’s fragmentation and party preferences. The constitutional engineering of the 1980s failed to constrain the number of parties in the system or limit the role of radical and marginal parties. Instead, they have started to influence the competition for votes. Parties on the rightofcenter compete for the far right votes. The competition for the fringe votes turns into a contest on “who is more religious?” and “who is more chauvinistic among the leaders?” The antisystems parties get coopted in this dangerous game of power, while parties that occupy similarly moderate positions are kept away from establishing political partnership. Governmental instability looms under the circumstances.
In that political culture the call for implementation of Islamic law in public and private life constitutes a relatively small voting bloc of about 2530% nationally distributed across all parties from the moderate rightofcenter to the far right (Erder, et. al., xix, and Kalaycioglu, 1994: 420421). It seems unlikely that they can hope to control power fully through the democratic process. Obviously, the WP is the party attracting most of those who wish to reimpose Sharia and establish an Islamic Republic in Turkey. If polls are correct, they do not seem to stand a chance to win an election alone and form a strong enough government to make a radical shift in the republican regime of Turkey.
The main reason why they seem to be winning so much ground recently is the bad performance of moderate party governments; the rising tide of xenophobia and chauvinism; the lack of success in spreading of national, secular education throughout the country leaving large segments of ill educated people vulnerable to the WP’s proselytizing activities; and the WP’s very successful party machine. Surveys also indicate that the radical rightwing parties are already getting all the support possible from potential supporters at the polls (Erder, et. al.,1995: 2527). Although, the political clout of the WP and the NAP increased in recent years, Turkish democracy does not seem to be close to a democratic takeover by the forces of Islamic or ethnic authoritarianism.
Second, primordial affiliations have always been important in Turkish politics. With the Soviet system’s collapse and the socialists’ crisis, cultural characteristics gained gain importance in mobilizing the masses. Religious and ethnonationalist identifications started to emerge as new fault lines splitting the Turkish electorate into major voting blocs. This may be only a temporary development, though I believe they will not lose their importance for another decade or so.
Third, the legitimacy of some of the system’s foundations, such as electoral laws, are seriously questioned by major political actors and forces of the country. Differing over the identity of Turks and desirable goals, parties propagate essentially contradictory educational and cultural policies which further widens the rift between them. Consequently, much depends upon the political elite’s ability to engineer compromises on the basic rules of political interaction in such matters as the parliament’s rules of procedure and the political parties law. Some steps are being taken toward establishing such an accord. Amending the 1982 Constitution, began in 1995, could, if systematically pursued, lead to consolidating the rules of democracy.
Fourth, the Turkish political system has been going through a consolidation of democracy. Much has been learned and soundly adopted by masses and the elites alike since 1950. A secular, pluralist culture is gradually being planted. Five decades of experience with multiparty democracy has created a responsible electorate, widespread values of pluralism to an unparalleled extent with any previous era of Turkish history, and a distinct mass dislike of oligarchic rule. The masses have started to assign a positive value to multiparty pluralism, seeming to correlate it with their personal welfare.
If the recently rising tide of chauvinism and xenophobia do not lead to a temporary breakdown of democracy, the consolidation of democracy should be expected to succeed in a decade or so. The process of integration with the European Union (EU), if it ever happens, will further motivate the Turkish political elite toward a negotiated compromise. Integration with the EU can only enhance Turkish democracy’s consolidation as in the Spanish, the Portuguese and the Greek cases.
However, under the current fragmentation and volatility of the vote, not much government stability can be expected. Short of a miracle, Turkish politics is bound to be ruled through coalition governments and the political elite to manage them. Otherwise, deepening sociocultural crises caused by antisystem parties in government will eventually lead to a breakdown of democracy, as happened from NSP and NAP participation in coalitions before during the 1970s. If the leaders of MP, DLP, and DTP can work together this will be a step toward building “stable coalition governments” in a land where “coalition” and “instability” have become identical in the minds of the political elites and masses alike, If a breakthrough in the democratic regime of coalitions will be forthcoming, Turkey may indeed be on the verge of dissociating coalition government from political instability after all.
1. I employ the concept of “social mobilization” in the same global sense that Karl Deutsch (1963) formulated and used it.
2. In a survey of Turkish households conducted in 1986 it was found that 60 percent of them have black and white, and 26 percent of them have color TV sets, and 5 percent of the households have VCRs. The percentage of households with color TV sets is 58 percent in Istanbul, 56 percent in Ankara, and 48 percent in Izmir, 35 percent in other cities, and 11 percent in rural areas. 16 percent of the households had VCRs in Istanbul and Ankara, 11 percent in Izmir, 4 percent in other cities, and 1 percent in rural areas. One should, however, not overlook the fact that in small cities and rural areas male members of the households usually prefer to watch TV and VCR broadcasts in a public coffee or tea house. The latter were not included in the survey (Esmer, et. al., 1987: 35).
3. In the survey referred to in ‘endnote 2’ it was also unearthed that 77 percent of all households in Turkey, 96 percent in Istanbul, 97 percent in Ankara, and 96 percent in Izmir, 92 percent in other cities, and 64 percent of in the rural areas have refrigerators. The same figures are 32 percent, 75 percent, 71 percent, 55 percent, 50 percent, and 11 percent for washing machines, and 11 percent, 21 percent, 19 percent, 13 percent, 12 and 7 percent for family cars (Esmer et. al., 1987: 35).
4. Hemsehrilik is a concept that connotes a tie presumed to exist between people from the same village, town, province, and exceptionally even of the same region.
5. The NSC is the advisory body with the highest authority that deliberates security, defense, and foreign policy issues and problems of Turkey and advises the government on matters of national interest. It consists of the President of the country, PM, Ministers of Defense, Interior Affairs, Foreign Relations, the joint Chief of Armed Forces, and the four commanders of the Armed Forces of Turkey (army, navy, air force, and the gendarmerie).
6. Democratic Turkey Party (DTP), a new organization established under the leadership of former Speaker of the TGNA, Mr. Husamettin Cindoruk after he and other TPP founders and members were expelled by Ciller. They seemed to be quite successful in attracting the disenchanted members of the TPP. They have recently established a parliamentary group by gaining more than 20 seats in the TGNA.
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