TURKEY’S NOVEMBER 2002 ELECTIONS: A NEW BEGINNING?
Volume 6, No. 4 – December 2002
TURKEY’S NOVEMBER 2002 ELECTIONS: A NEW BEGINNING?
By Ali Carkoglu
Turkey’s November 2002 elections ended with a stunning
victory for the new Justice and Development Party. Since only one other party
reached the 10 percent minimum necessary to hold seats in parliament, the
victorious group was left with close to a two-thirds’ majority. This article
analyzes the meaning of the election, the fate of the different parties, and the
attitudes of the electorate
Turkey’s November 3, 2002, general elections ended with a predicted but still
impressive victory for the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi – AKP), the first party since 1987 to secure a clear majority in Parliament. The rapid rise of AKP support marks another step
in the electoral collapse of centrist politics in the country. The left-leaning
Republican People?s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi-CHP) is the only
other party passing the 10% nationwide electoral support threshold to gain seats
in the Parliament. AKP got about 34 % of the votes compared to 20% for CHP. The
remaining 46% of votes did not elect anyone since all other parties did not gain
the minimum 10% needed. (See Table 1 below).
The incumbent government’s coalition members suffered the heaviest losses.
Compared to the 1999 election, the largest incumbent coalition partner, the
Democratic Left Party (Demokratik Sol Parti-DSP), shrunk down to about
1.2%. It may have set a world record for being the largest party in one election
and losing almost all its support in the next one. Among the other coalition
partners, the Nationalist Action Party (Milliyetci Hareket Partisi-MHP)
lost 9.6 percentage points, while the junior partner the Motherland Party (Anavatan
Partisi-ANAP) lost 12.9 percentage points. Hence, the coalition partners
together lost about 39 percentage points of electoral support from the April
The two major opposition parties did not perform much better. While the pro-Islamist
Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi-SP) suffered a loss of 12.9 percentage
points, the True Path Party (Dogru Ÿru Yol Partisi-DYP) lost 2.5 percentage points. Besides CHP and AKP and to a
lesser degree the Democratic People?s Party (Demokratik Halk Partisi-DEHAP),
all opposition parties incurred significant losses of electoral support.
Consequently, all the leaders of those losing centrist parties, except the
leader of the SP, were forced to step aside.
The leadership of the winners seems committed to integrating Turkey into
Europe. However, their religiously conservative constituency is known to be
skeptical toward EU membership. From the perspective of economic interests, AKP
supporters seem to reflect resurgent conservative Anatolian capital against the
secular establishment of Istanbul, the largest city of Turkey. The influence of
upwardly mobile Anatolian firms may aim to shift the power balance in their
favor through advocating irresponsible populist social and economic policies
together with revitalized pro-Islamist actions and a push for private business
gains through access to or effective control of the government.
If AKP does not keep a neutral stand in such a power struggle among the top
economic players it would be politically self-destructive since the perception
of honesty is one of its main attractions. The corruption associated with the
previous liberalization period under the centrist ANAP and DYP was one of the
main reasons for declining trust in the centrist parties among the electorate.
Besides the issue of EU membership–which the AKP leadership started to push
as soon as their electoral victory became certain–a number of other issues
present the new government with potentially explosive problems. Most obvious
among those are the long-lasting Cyprus conflict and the impending military
engagement in Iraq.
On the domestic front, AKP’s consultative meetings with a wide variety of
civil society organizations seem to have pleased public opinion as a first step
in the direction of a more inclusive and open government. At the same time,
though, the AKP’s overwhelming power coupled with its Islamist politics could
create serious internal conflicts. In short, the message of the election may
either be the end of politics in Turkey as it has been practiced for decades, or
a temporary deviation, which voters will reverse at the next opportunity.
This article provides a short overview of the main characteristics of the
Turkish party system and electoral behavior. The November 2002 election is
evaluated in light of these historical patterns. Next, the campaign period will
be critically considered and linked to characteristic patterns of the Turkish
party system. Finally, I will venture into a speculative appraisal of the
near-term implications of the new AKP government.
PARTY SYSTEM CHARACTERISTICS AND VOTE DETERMINANTS
Looking at the Turkish electoral scene after the November 2002 elections and
trying to foresee what lies beyond, one needs to bear in mind characteristics of
the post-1980 Turkish party system. The electoral preferences reflected in
election outcomes are very volatile. On average, over the more than half-century
of competitive multi-party elections, nearly 23% of the electorate changes its
preferences from one party to another in each election. In the early 1980s high
volatility was primarily due to a changing menu of parties facing the electorate
due to the closing and merging of different parties. However, for at least the
last three elections–1995, 1999 and especially in 2002– we observe that the
electorate shifts from one party to another for reasons other than the
nonexistence of a previously available party.
Given the available election results and expectations concerning the impact
of continuing economic crisis on party preferences, it should be hardly
surprising that an even higher level of volatility compared to 1999 preferences
took place in November 2002. As Table 1 shows, nearly half of the electorate
seem to have shifted from one party to another from the 1999 to the 2002
elections. If we divide the party system into four ideological groups–extreme
left, center-left, center-right, and pro-Islamist and nationalist party
groups–we observe that about 20% of the voters seem to have switched from one
group to another between the1999 and 2002 elections. Besides CHP, and DEHAP,
which inherited its predecessor HADEP?s electoral tradition of representing
Kurdish ethnicity in the country, there are no parties which gained on their
1999 vote level. AKP and the Young Party (Genc Parti-GP) are the other
two newly established parties that gathered significant electoral support. GP
was the dark horse of the November 2002 elections and relied on no previous
electoral tradition. AKP clearly had the RP/FP constituency as their target and
competed with the SP for that base. In short, increasing volatility seems to
benefit new right-of-the-center parties.
In 2002 the pro-Islamist and nationalist group of parties peaked in electoral
support reaching nearly 53%, an all-time high in Turkish politics. As such, this
group is about 3.3 times larger than the center-right parties and about 2.5
times larger than the center-left parties. However, the real question is whether
and when will the electoral support become consolidated and stabilized behind
these new parties. If the past pattern continues, the next election is bound to
create not only some deterioration of electoral support for AKP but rather a
major one creating yet another new right-of-center winner.
|Table 1. Election
results and aggregate party system characteristics 1999-2002
|Seats in the|
|Vote Share (%)||% wins||Parliament|
|Democratic Left Party (Demokratik Sol Parti-DSP)||22.19||1.22||-20.97||136||0|
|Nationalist Action Party (Milliyetci Hareket Partisi-MHP)||17.98||8.34||-9.64||129||0|
|Virtue Party (Fazilet Partisi-FP)*||15.41||2.48||-12.93||111||0|
|Motherland Party (Anavatan Partisi-ANAP)||13.22||5.13||-8.09||86||0|
|True Path Party (Dogru Yol Partisi-DYP)||12.01||9.55||-2.46||85||0|
|Republican People’s Party (Cuhuriyet Halk Partisi-CHP)||8.71||19.40||10.69||0||178|
|People’s Democarcy Party (Halkin Demokrasi Partisi-HADEP)**||4.75||6.23||1.48||0||0|
|Grand Unity Party (B?irlik Partisi-BBP)||1.46||1.02||-0.44||0||0|
|Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi-AKP)||0.00||34.28||34.28||0||363|
|Young Party (Genc Parti-GP)||0.00||7.25||7.25||0||0|
|% of vote unrepresented in the Parliament (%)||18.32||45.33|
|*In 2002 Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi-SP)|
|**In 2002 Democratic People’s Party (Demokratik Halk Partisi-DEHAP)|
|***In 1950 9 independents gained seats in the Parliament, in 1954 10
and in 1969 13 independents won seats.
|**** Highest (ideological) volatility ever in the Turkish party
|*****Lowest fractionalisation since 1991 elections.|
The Turkish party system of the post-1980s is also increasingly fragmented.
Until the November 2002 elections, despite the very limiting 10% nation-wide
electoral support for getting representation in the parliament, more and more
parties were able to attract voters? support in elections and ultimately
winning representation. This is usually achieved by splits in parties after
elections. Factions that could not get 10% nation-wide support first get in on a
party list and then become independents or create a smaller party. Larger
centrist parties could get representatives of smaller fractions into the
parliament under an umbrella ticket. However, they could not keep them under the
same umbrella for long since their inner-party democratic character does not
allow factions but rather pushes them out to become outsiders.
Besides fragmentation in the parliament, increasing fragmentation in election
preferences can also be seen. More and more parties were able to obtain vote
shares within the range of 4 to 14 percent. In 1987 there were two parties
within this range (DSP and RP) and one at around 3% (MCP). In 1991 DSP reached
about 10% and the RP-MHP coalition got about 17%. In 1995, CHP, DSP, HADEP and
MHP were all within this range. Finally, in 1999, ANAP, CHP, DYP, HADEP and FP
fell into this range while MHP and DSP were close with about 18% and 22%
respectively. Looking back at the 1999 elections, it is clear that given the
volatility of the electorate it was not possible that the party system could
maintain that many parties within such a close range of support. Coming into the
2002 elections however, we observe that only two parties get significantly above
the 10% threshold while 5 parties (ANAP, DYP, MHP, GP and DEHAP) remaining
between 4 to 10 percent and DSP and SP getting about 2%. In other words, while
the electoral preferences remained very volatile, they also remained highly
fragmented. Compared to 1999 and 1995 the party system is less fragmented.
However, it still is more fragmented than the results of the 1991 election.
Many experts have claimed that the electorate could unite the fragmented
system behind one or two major parties in November 2002. This expectation would
have been valid if there were no social, economic, ethnic, sectarian and thus
also regional differences in electoral preferences dominating the election
results. Over the past nearly half a century it has always been local and
regional factors rather than national ones that shaped election results.(1) It
would have been a real surprise if this general trend had changed in November
As Table 1 shows, fragmentation remained high despite a downturn in that
trend and a relatively increased focus on one or two parties. Looking at the
unofficial election results from provinces, my calculations show that the
overall dominant position of the local component in election results continues
in the Turkish party system. The AKP and CHP vote experienced a significant rise
in their national component and in the case of AKP the national component is now
the dominant factor shaping its electoral support. As such, AKP becomes the
first party in Turkish electoral history to gather behind it a uniform swing
across the nation in its favor.
Another striking characteristic of the aggregate election outcomes across
Turkish provinces is its clear geographical regionalization pattern. Recent
overall evaluations of the results for the 1950-1999 period show that Turkish
provinces reflect three regions. One that covers the so-called “deep”
East and Southeastern provinces; another covering the coastal provinces from the
Eastern Black Sea down to Eastern Mediterranean including the whole of Trace and
Aegean provinces; and lastly a large number of provinces that seem to have been
squeezed in between these two regions. In terms of their socio-economic
characteristics as well as political preferences these three regions reveal a
clear pattern as well. The East and Southeastern provinces are the least
developed in all respects and have an ethnic reflection in their political
preferences. Their clear preference for DEP/HADEP in the 1990s and DEHAP in the
last election have its roots in the early 1950 and 1960s when this region also
showed a distinct inclination for either the opposition parties or personalized
The coastal provinces are typically the most developed and modern in their
socio-economic backgrounds. Their political preferences are centrist. The
Anatolian plain provinces fare relatively better in terms of socio-economic
development compared to the “deep” Southeast but significantly worse
off than the coastal regions. These provinces are the hotbeds of Turkish
nationalist and pro-Islamist electoral support.(2) The results from the
provinces indicate that a similar pattern is again observed in the last
election. The distinct preference of the “deep” Southeast for DEHAP is
again obvious but this time we observe a significant rise in its level as well
as its spread across the provinces of the East and Southeast. The changing of
electoral forces that in a sense challenge the system applies not only to the
Kurdish electoral base but even more so for the pro-Islamist electoral base that
seem to have advanced from the East into the West and the coastal regions. In a
sense, the conservative preferences of the Anatolian steppes have expanded onto
the coasts and Western provinces where we still observe some, but significantly
shrunken, centrist-right or centrist-left support.
The election system, which requires 10% nation-wide support to gain
representation, consistently kept 14 to 19 percent of the electorate
unrepresented in the parliament since 1987. The largest share of the
unrepresented votes in elections prior to the last one occurred in 1987 (19.8%)
leaving the centrist DSP as well as right of the center MHP and RP out of the
parliament. In 1991, the pre-election coalition between the RP and MHP kept the
unrepresented votes at a bare minimum. However, in 1995 the two extreme ends of
the Kurdish issue–that is the nationalist MHP and the ethnic Kurdish People?s
Democracy Party (Halkin Demokrasi Partisi-HADEP)–remained
out of the parliament, with total unrepresented votes reaching 14.4%. In 1999,
MHP got in and this time CHP remained out of the parliament, which meant 19% of
the votes cast did not get represented.
Given the fact that no large pre-election coalitions were formed before
November 2002 and the persistent fragmentation in preferences, the unrepresented
portion of electoral preferences in the parliament reached a peak with about 45%
of the vote. What is remarkable about this large unrepresented segment is not
only its sheer size but also its ideological nature. AKP together with the
independent MPs could conceivably make changes even in the Constitution with
little difficulty. However, AKP’s seat advantage in the Parliament does not
translate into a vote majority in electoral support. Therefore, any time AKP
fails to obtain CHP?s cooperation in such changes, CHP and other opposition
parties are justifiably going to question the legitimacy of such changes made by
a party with only minority support and pressure AKP to back down. In other
words, AKP?s single party government needs to build a consensus in and also
out of the Parliament in order to maintain its legitimacy as a government.
Among the parties that remain out of the Parliament the ethnic Kurdish DEHAP
has always suffered from the 10% nationwide representation threshold. As a
predominantly regional party obtaining its support from the East and
Southeastern provinces it nevertheless consistently increased its vote share
over the last three elections (running under the HADEP banner in the first two).
DEHAP has enlarged its support significantly and reached a larger vote share
than ANAP, SP, DSP and the Grand Unity Party (B?irlik Partisi-BBP).
As such, it is now the sixth largest party in the system. But since HADEP and
DEHAP?s regionally concentrated electoral support is unrepresented in the
Parliament this factor favors the parties that capture the second largest vote
shares in those provinces. In 1995 and 1999 the pro-Islamist RP and FP benefited
from HADEP being left out of the Parliament. In 2002 it was AKP which on average
gained less than half of the electoral support that DEHAP obtained in East and
Southeastern provinces that benefited from this representational threshold.
Another important pattern that emerges from the aggregate data is a high
correlation between incumbent party?s or coalition?s electoral support and
the performance of the economy during its tenure. In other words, the worse (or
better) the economy performs during inter-election periods, the largest is the
drop (or gain) in the electoral support for the party or coalition held
responsible for this performance.(3) Not surprisingly, we also observe a great
deal of effort on the part of the incumbents to manipulate the economic policy
tools in such a way as to please their target constituencies. Reflections of
these manipulations are typically observed in agricultural support prices,
government employment and salary raises, delay of price increases in goods and
services controlled by the public sector.(4) Typically, however, incumbents fail
to stay in power and only get the economic balances worsen.
Such manipulations in the economy have become very difficult under the
present economic austerity program. Intricate public bidding and spending
arrangements implemented just before elections and in such a way as to support a
certain party constituency is always possible. However, having been in power
during the deep economic crisis of 2001, the DSP-MHP-ANAP coalition which, in
the aftermath of 1999 elections, had an electoral support of about 54% obtained
only about 15% of the votes in November 2002. This is the largest drop in
Turkish electoral history for an incumbent or coalition in two consecutive
Over the past nearly two decades we see a consistent shift of voters from
centrist left-right ideological positions to the extreme-right end of the
spectrum.(5) The average Turkish voter now places himself or herself on a clear
right-of-center ideological position and nearly 20% of the voters seem to be
placed on the far right position; i.e., at 10 on a 1 to 10 left-right
Individual preferences seem to reflect two dimensions that command the
ideological competition in the Turkish party system.(6) The first and the
relatively more dominant is the secularist vs. pro-Islamist cleavage. It is
noteworthy that this cleavage largely overlaps with the center vs. periphery
formations in Turkish politics and also the left and the right wing orientations
similar in many respects to the Western European traditions. The second
dimension is the ethnic-based nationalist cleavage placing the Turkish and
Kurdish identities as opposed to one another.
On the first dimension, as an individual becomes more religious in terms of
attitudes, behavior and worship practice as well as self-perception, we observe
an increasing tendency to support a distinct group of pro-Islamist parties.
Declining religiosity of the same variants also differentiates the voters?
tendency to support center-left parties of strict secularist policy preferences.
Similarly on the second dimension, nationalistic attitudes and feelings
concerning not only the Kurdish issue but also the EU membership and Copenhagen
criteria that binds these issues together, differentiate an individual?s
likelihood of support for the right-wing parties. In other words, despite the
fact that EU remains an obscure and technical issue for most Turkish voters, the
Copenhagen criteria and the legislative arrangements required to meet them
concerning abolishment of the death penalty and minority rights provide a
convenient anchor for nationalist circles to exploit a eurosceptic rhetoric to
The heart of political competition thus seems to be shaped around
pro-Islamism and secularism blended with varying dozes of Turkish nationalism.
While the overwhelming majority of the Turkish electorate is located around
ideological orientations that reflect these issues, the traditionally state-centred
Turkish left is still far from such arguments. The two important minority
groups, the Alevi and Kurdish communities, seem isolated on the Turkish
ideological map. While HADEP/DEHAP undertakes the representation of the Kurdish
constituency, CHP, still seems the closest party to the Alevis. The Sunni pro-Islamist
AKP and SP are the most distant party from the Alevi constituencies.
The electorate’s rising disenchantment with the existing parties is also
evident. For a long time surveys showed a large segment of voters undecided as
to which party to support while an equally large segment refused to vote for any
one of the available parties.(7) The inability of governments to respond to
emergency needs after the devastating earthquakes in 1999 and the following
economic crisis obviously occupy an important place in popular anger towards
politicians and politics at large. The Turkish electorate seems unhappy with
their lives and outraged with the inability of the politicians to solve their
It remains to be seen whether the AKP can do better at these tasks and hold
its support in the April 2004 local elections and those that follow. The rise of
the AKP in a consistent pattern across the Turkish provinces can be seen as a
continuation of the peripheral challenge to the statist centre of Turkish
politics.(8) The resistance of the centre a la Mardin (1973) has never been this
weak in the past elections. However, to what extent the peripheral forces have
come under the AKP’s banner and accept its ideas and policies is not yet clear.
AKP now inherits not only the pro-Islamist tradition but also the Democrat Party
(Demokrat Parti-DP), Justice Party (Adalet Partisi-AP) and the DYP
tradition together with that of the market developmentalist ANAP of the 1980s.
How the AKP leadership can balance these hardly reconcilable orientations is
unclear. Would the alienated masses hurt by the economic crisis of the 2001
remain behind AKP or move to another new or already existing party? Could a
leader, new or already in politics, mobilize them or would they be attracted by
a traditionally centrist party or yet by another pro-Islamist or nationalist
one? Would the cumulative disenchantment of the masses with the inability of the
parties to respond to their basic needs and expectations lead to a further
abandonment of centrist tendencies? How fast would this movement to one of the
extreme ends be? How would the existing parties and the powerful state
bureaucracy react to these developments? Answers to these questions can only be
given by future events. Below, I speculate on possible developments on the basis
of the above analyses.
A CRITICAL TURNING POINT?
In order to assess whether the November 3, 2002 election was a turning point
in Turkish electoral history, we need to consider two historical developments.
One is the economic crisis and ruling coalition’s ineptitude that created
impatience and anger toward the Ankara establishment. The other is the
surprising initiative taken by the outgoing Parliament to pass the legal
adjustment package before the elections. The Ankara establishment’s willingness
to bring the EU adjustments to the election agenda reflected a need to reshape
the debate with an eye toward meeting the challenges of becoming a viable EU
Regarding the two-year-long economic crisis plaguing Turkey, the centrist
parties, reluctant to make populist promises, lost their appeal. No matter how
incredible the promises of AKP and GP might have been, they nevertheless
signaled the masses that they would change the status quo and adopt more caring
policies for the masses. The incumbent coalition partners could not credibly
respond to such a rhetoric simply because they had already had their chance and
had not acted effectively. Even the challenging opposition parties such as DYP,
CHP and SP were unable to come up with credible alternatives that could attract
the suffering masses.
SP’s problem was different than those of the CHP and DYP. SP’s adoption
of a pro-Islamist rhetoric under the leadership of now banned Necmettin Erbakan
seem simply to have left the impression of reactionaries unable to achieve
anything in practice. Besides a few nationalist left-wing parties such as the
Workers Party (Isci Partisi – IP) and the Turkish Communist Party (Turkiye Komunist Partisi-TKP) a
left-wing perspective in the economy could not be underlined during the
campaign. These extremist perspectives also were seen as adventurous and
non-credible given the foreign aid dependent Turkish economy. DYP’s
credibility was equally blemished given the past performance of its leader Tansu
Ciller in office when the 1994 economic crisis hit the country. The only
credible party that could have used the economic alienation of the masses for
building an electoral base was CHP. However, CHP also failed to deliver on this
front despite, or perhaps because, of the fact that it had the widely popular Kemal Dervis, who runs the economic program
At one point in early summer 2002, the electoral appeal of Dervis was
seen as tremendous. However, as the summer progressed and the campaign
began, the choices made by Dervis at critical junctures disillusioned many.
First came his distancing from the New Turkey Party (Yeni Turkiye Partisi-YTP).
Despite his damage control efforts, in the minds of the Turkish voters this may
have seemed too slick a move. After all, Dervis had been involved in a failed attempt to eliminate DSP and B?Ecevit from the political scene, trying to discredit him in an unprecedented campaign bordering on character assassination. This plan collapsed once MHP leader Devlet Bahceli called for early elections. Unprepared for such amove, the other coalition partners could only play along. After the election, Ecevit called this decision ?political suicide?. In the eyes of Turkish public opinion, Dervis suffered for the maneuvers that created this
Next came his new party of choice; CHP. Now that Dervis had broken away from
YTP, the CHP leadership did not need him or his obscure team. For its part,
since Dervis failed to attract significant newcomers, CHP continued to project
an image of being unchanged. Dervis added little. Dervis’ effort to push CHP
might have been wrong from the start. If this election was about the economic
crisis, corruption and Ankara’s clumsiness about helping the people, Dervis may
never have had much to offer. The financial panic might have ended nearly after
18 months of work by him but much of the economy has not felt any improvement.
His image as a “World Bank man” could not easily “sell”
among an increasingly angry and alienated electorate. If the election was about
the future of the economy, then Dervis needed to project a new fresh team of
experienced specialists in the CHP lists, which he also did not provide.
Dervis charisma might also have been exaggerated. Old-style
campaigning with mass meetings and hand-shaking might still be more important in
Turkey than making a good impression on television interviewers. Moreover,
Dervis projected a disillusioning, almost
authoritarian pro-militaristic, image in perhaps the “only uncooked”
interview he gave to Nese Duzel in Radikal daily newspaper on October 21,
2002.(9) For those wanting a fresh left perspective on not only economic policy
matters but also on larger social issues he
simply seemed to be projecting an old statist view. Dervis might have all
the credentials for a successful savior on the economic scene but he failed to
provide a larger vision.
While Dervis was trying to focus naively only on economic policy
matters ignoring the underlying struggle for enlarging the country’s democratic
agenda AKP, was appealing to mass disillusionment. This strategy was far less
successful than the AKP’s appeal to the masses’ unhappiness. As Tarhan Erdem
aptly noted in an interview with Nese Duzel,” Dervis chose to reconcile with the status quo.”(10) In contrast, AKP
made a populist call for economic equality, while only scarcely using
such controversial Islamist-related issues as the wearing of headscarves in
In retrospect, the decision to go to early elections, DSP’s loss of
credibility, and Ecevit’s passing from the scene, gave the AKP what it needed to
win the majority in the Parliament. Neither Devis, nor ex-foreign
minister Ismail Cem, nor the old-time CHP insider Deniz Baykal could
fill the vacuum. Baykal’s insistence on relying on his party’s old guard
ensured it would not be revitalized. Instead of being an alliance of young,
dynamic agents of change in Turkey adopting democratic, egalitarian and
progressive issue stands, the CHP became a faction of resistance to change.
Another important observation concerns developments on the EU front. The most
surprising development of Summer 2002 came with the unexpected passage of an
impressive EU adjustment package from Parliament. This package was passed after
the Parliament had taken the decision to go for an early election. Even the most
optimistic were not expecting such a move. With large number of resignations
from the largest coalition partner DSP in Summer 2002 and the resulting New
Turkey Party (Yeni Turkiye Partisi-YTP)
under the leadership of former Minister of Foreign Affairs Ismail Cem, EU
and EU related issues seem to be pushed to the forefront of political debate in
the country. However, other political party leaders have by that time only
tangentially dealt with this issue in front
of the electorate. Besides Cem, ANAP leader Mesut Yilmaz stood in favor of
this issue in his campaign. MHP leadership openly questioned the worth of EU
membership. At the time, ill-looking Ecevit did not seem to care about the EU issue
or was simply unable to push behind any issue he believed in. Although publicly
in favour of EU membership, DYP leader Tansu Ciller seemed reluctant to push
the issue perhaps considering backlash of the conservatist constituencies in
their competition with the AKP and MHP. AKP ‘s core constituency was known to be
skeptical about EU issues and thus the leadership was not willing to take the
lead on this issue. In short, if the EU issue were going to shape the electoral
agenda in the next general elections, the political elites’ willingness to raise
the salience of the EU issues would be a major factor behind this development.
If one believes that politicians only move by electoral incentives then one
would also claim that ANAP, more than anybody else, saw an electoral pay-off
that no one dared to touch and took its chances by taking the initiative to pass
critical pieces of legislation from the Parliament before the election campaign
The EU-oriented legislation passed just before the election included limiting
the use of death penalty and opening the way for teaching and broadcasting in
native languages other than Turkish (in principle allowing the use of Kurdish in
such activities). The EU adjustment package was seen by some as democratizing
new regulations bringing the country closer to EU membership, while an opposing
group portrayed these as one-sided concessions undermining Turkey’s unity and
independence. The parties in Parliament were clearly divided. MHP alone rejected
all the legislation, while AKP opposed only the death penalty change, knowing
this vote would not impede the package’s passing. ANAP was the new laws’ main
advocate, hoping it would lead to electoral support and the EU’s agreement to
advance Turkey’s membership application.
ANAP’s hopes, however, were not realized. It assumed that voters would reward
it for acting on the EU issue and that the EU would also be pleased. But any
action by the EU bureaucracy would only take place after the election.
Similarly, public opinion was little affected since the measures would not be
implemented until later. The November 2002 election was not determined by EU
issues. Even ANAP?s campaign was not effective in pushing this issue since the
party organization was falling apart on the expectation that it would not
survive the 10% nationwide threshold. Many influential names resigned and joined
AKP, MHP or became independent.
One of the emerging new parties was Cem Uzan?s Young Party (Genc Parti-GP),
which few took seriously at first. When a polling result was published on
September 30, however, GP seemed to be above the threshold and one of the few
parties likely to gain seats.(11)
This situation revealed some of the problems in contemporary Turish politics.
GP was and is a typical one-man show and completely funded by Uzan. Its campaign
was a slick commercial show using Uzan?s television and radio stations, as
well as his cellular phone network. Many tenets of this campaign were in direct
violation of the law of political campaigns but no serious steps were taken to
stop it. Uzan?s speeches were full of irresponsible populist promises,
including: increasing the number of provinces from 81 to 250; 200 square meters
of state-owned land to be given to every family; cheap credits for every family
to be paid back in 30 years; distribution of all school books for free;
abolishing VAT on foodstuffs; no tax on minimum wage and an overall reduction of
taxes; and higher support prices for agriculture.
Some of these points–like no taxes on minimum wage–were shared by MHP and
DYP. Uzan?s promise of a university for every province was matched by DYP and
even surpassed by promising new ones in provinces that already had one
university. It seems however, that once this bidding game started,
others–especially DYP?s Tansu Ciller–followed suit with her own version of
populism like promising a tractor for every farmer and shifting the state banks
for agriculture and small merchants to farmers and small merchants.
These populist promises were blended with anti-establishment rhetoric
reminiscent of Ross Perot in the United States and Sylvio Berlusconi in Italy.
Uzan, and to some degree Erdogan, turned their campaign speeches into
expressions of hatred against the establishment and government. Obviously, none
of Uzan?s promises could be realized within the austerity program. But this
type of campaigning was meant to convince voters that leaders cared about them
and intended to do something about their suffering. A sophisticated argument
about the lack of resources to achieve such goals would not influence many. The
people wanted change, blamed the establishment, and sought to express their
anger. Uzan, and in some ways the AKP, seems to have given them exactly what
At first sight Uzan?s 7.25% seemed to have been largely attracted from MHP.
However, Uzan?s power base did not turn out to be anywhere close to
traditional MHP strongholds. Rather, GP gets most of its support from the
western coastal provinces where CHP dominates the polls. It seems that GP
appealed to the uneducated, unemployed masses hardest hit by the economic crisis
and angry at the ruling coalition. Although it is impossible to say what would
have happened if the GP had not been in the election, it is clear that the votes
it received helped prevent other parties, probably centrist ones, from passing
the 10% threshold.
Where did AKP get its vote? Geographically speaking, AKP?s vote is
concentrated in the central Anatolian provinces. However, unlike the traditional
conservative provinces this time AKP led in large metropolitan cities like
Istanbul, Ankara and Bursa. AKP voters appear to be religious, young, shantytown
dwellers who do not support EU membership. CHP supporters, on the other hand,
appear to be secularist leftists who are not particularly young and who support
END OF POLITICS AS WE KNOW IT?
The November 2002 election brought to power a very different group of leaders
and, for the first time since 1991, a single-party government. While AKP’s core
constituency is skeptical about EU membership, the new rulers began with an
impressive tour of European capitals and a push for a starting date on
negotiations regarding Turkish membership. Similarly, they seemed to move
forward on supporting a solution to the Cyprus issue. A success for AKP on
either issue would strengthen the new government. Since the real difficulty that
is expected to shortly become binding is on the economic front, if these efforts
succeed, AKP would have started its tenure with a first minute goal.
Consolidation of EU-Turkey partnership with the start of negotiations would lift
the uncertainty surrounding Turkish economy?s direction and potential for the
future. Even if the much-expected military engagement in Iraq materializes, its
impact on the Turkish economy could be kept at a minimum. Under this rosy
scenario AKP would be much more powerful to conduct the much-needed reforms in
public administration, agriculture, education and many other policy areas.
Under such circumstances, the only opposition party in parliament, CHP, could
find little on which to gain popularity by resisting the government. If the
economy goes well, AKP could afford to move slowly on such Islamist issues as
that of the headscarf. And if AKP follows a moderate path in beneficial
circumstances it could replace the centrist parties of the Turkish party system.
Although harder-line elements within AKP might not like this policy, they would
find it hard to overturn it. This would be the most likely course of events if
AKP’s victory would prove a long-term, basic shift in Turkish politics rather
than a temporary aberration.
With a much weaker center in parliament and a populist right-of-center in
power, the post-election period is more likely to see several crises, including
an uneasy relationship between the prime minister and a president known to be a
liberal secularist. Another is the headscarves or turban issue. However, for
this to become a major issue, the CHP or other parties would have to challenge
the AKP. Pressure might also come from the AKP’s own constituency to take
Regarding such issues as Cyprus, EU conditions, and Turkey’s relations with
the United States or Israel, the military might also again become a factor if it
believes the AKP is acting in too Islamist a fashion. Another possibility of
crisis could come from international criticism of government economic policies
which could lead to a crisis of confidence and thus more internal economic
AKP?s big test is its ability to appeal to average people through its
economic policies while transforming itself from a marginal to a centrist party.
In rosy scenarios, AKP?s challenge will be to maintain a long-term growth
strategy rather than just exploiting a short-term opportunity. In gloomy
scenarios, AKP could face internal conflict and opt for more extremist policies.
In all likelihood, whichever direction events take, Turkey’s politics are likely
to be far different than they were before the November 2002 elections.
1. Ali Carkoglu and Ilgaz Eren, ?The Rise of Right-of-Centre Parties
and the Nationalisation of Electoral Forces in Turkey,? New
Perspectives on Turkey, Vol.26, No. 1 (Spring 2002), pp.95-137.
2. Ali Carkoglu, “24 Aralık 1995 Seçimlerinde Bölgeselleşme, Oynaklık, Parçalanma ve Temsil Adaleti” (Regionalisation, Volatility, Fractionalisation and Representational Justice in Turkey’s December 24, 1995 Elections) in Turkish, Görüş TUSIAD (Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen Association), Istanbul, Turkey, April 1996.; Ali Çarkoğlu and Gamze Avcı, “An Analysis of the Turkish Electorate from a Geographical Perspective”, in Yılmaz Esmer and Sabri Sayarı (Eds.), Politics, Parties and Elections in Turkey (Boulder, CO: Lynn Rienner , 2002), pp.115-136.
3. Ali Carkoglu, Macroeconomic Determinants of Electoral Support for
Incumbents in Turkey, 1950-1995?, New Perspectives on Turkey,
Vol.17, No.2, (1997), pp.75-96.
4. Ali Çarkoğlu, “The Interdependence of Politics and Economics in Turkey: Some Findings at the Aggregate Level of Analysis”, Boğaziçi Journal, Review of Social, Economic and Administrative Sciences, Vol.9, No.2, (1995), pp.85-108.; Üstün Ergüder, “Politics of Agricultural Price Policy in Turkey,” in Ergun Özbudun and Aydın Ulusan, (Eds.) The Political Economy of Income Distribution in Turkey, (NY: Holmes and Meier Publishers Ltd.,1980), pp.169-196.; A. A. Gürkan and H. Kasnakoğlu, “The Political Economics of Agricultural Price Support in Turkey: An Empirical Assessment”, Public Choice, Vol.70, No.3 (1991), pp. 277-298.
5. Ali Çarkoğlu, “The Interdependence of Politics and Economics in Turkey: Some Findings at the Aggregate Level of Analysis”, Boğaziçi Journal, Review of Social, Economic and Administrative Sciences, Vol.9, No.2, (1995), pp.85-108.; Üstün Ergüder, “Politics of Agricultural Price Policy in Turkey,” in Ergun Özbudun and Aydın Ulusan, (Eds.) The Political Economy of Income Distribution in Turkey, (NY: Holmes and Meier Publishers Ltd.,1980), pp.169-196.; A. A. Gürkan and H. Kasnakoğlu, “The Political Economics of Agricultural Price Support in Turkey: An Empirical Assessment”, Public Choice, Vol.70, No.3 (1991), pp. 277-298.
6. Ali Carkoglu and Melvin J.Hinich, An Analysis of the Ideological Space Underlying Turkish Party
Preferences,” Turkish Policy Quarterly, Vol.1, No. 1 (Spring 2002),
7. Ali Carkoglu, The Turkish General Election of 24 December 1995,? Electoral Studies,
Vol.16, No.1 (1997), pp.86-95.
8.For a conceptualisation of the centre-periphery paradigm in Turkish politics see: Mardin, Şerif “Center Periphery Relations: A Key to Turkish Politics?,” Deadalus, Vol.2, No.1 (1973), pp.169-190.
9. Radikal, November 1, 2002, p.9.
10. Radikal, 23 September, 2002, p.6.
11. Milliyet daily newspaper, p.4.; See also Tarhan Erdem?s
account of the results in Radikal, October 1st, 2002, p.11.
Ali Carkoglu is an associate professor of
political science at Sabanci University and research director for TESEV. He is
co-editor of Turkish Studies journal Vol. 4, Number 1 on Turkey and the European
Union which will also be published as a book by Frank Cass.
to Journal Volume 6 Number 4 Index