Continuing the sample blogs on Turkish politics, here is my write-up on Turkey’s political parties…
Last year, as Tunisia and Egypt began their first steps towards democratic government, many looked to Turkey as a democratic role model. While Turkey still struggles with the freedom expression and its treatment of minorities, it has a vibrant opposition and a moderate Islamic governing party that respects the democratic process. In fact, those elements of Turkey’s party system may be one of the best things they could export to the region.
So what does this “model” party system look like, exactly? Not as wild and crazy as you might expect; while 15 parties competed in the 2011 election, only 4 made it into parliament, and that’s pretty typical. Turkey’s party system might best be described as having two main parties and a couple smaller ones. Four parties comprise the current Turkish National Assembly:
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) is Turkey’s current governing party; in the 2011 election, they received a little less than 50% of the national vote, and nearly 60% of the seats in parliament (327 of 550). The AKP IS a conservative Muslim party, but if you read their party programme (they’re nice enough to publish it in English), you get a sense that religion is more a guiding principle than a dominant component of their policies. Looking at the traditional political party groupings, we might consider them part of the “Christian Democrat” party family (that category name might need some updating if that whole Arab democracy thing ever takes off…). They are very comparable to Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Both parties support traditional institutions (family, community, and religious groups), and favor free market policies balanced by some social support. On an interesting side note, if you compare the CDU party programme (also available in English) to the AKP, religion takes a much bigger role in the CDU’s introduction. There goes that stereotype about Muslim extremists!
The AKP’s major opposition is the Republican People’s Party (CHP). Americans, don’t let that name fool you – these guys are Social Democrats. The CHP was originally founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey (hence the “Republican” name). In line with their history, the CHP is dedicated to republicanism and secularism, 2 of the 6 principles their logo represents. In the 2011 parliamentary election, the CHP received 26% of the national vote and 135 seats (25%) in parliament.
The National Movement Party (MHP) is a Far-Right party emphasizing Turkish and Islamic nationalism – and the only party NOT to have an English version of their website! They haven’t had much luck in recent elections – an internet sex scandal is never a good sell when you’re supposed to be a party focused on “ethics” – and in 2011, they barely passed Turkey’s 10% electoral threshold. They received 13% of the national vote and make up less than 10% (53 seats) of Turkey’s parliament.
The final party in Turkey’s parliament is the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). It’s a successor to the Democratic Society Party (DTP), formed after Turkey’s Constitutional Court banned the DTP due to its links to the PKK (a Kurdish separatist group). This ban drew criticism from the EU and sparked a wave of violence within Turkey. Like its predecessor(s), the BDP is an ethno-regional and Social Democratic political party. In the 2011 election, the BDP only received 6.6% of the national vote, not enough to pass Turkey’s electoral threshold. However, as I wrote in my previous blog, they were able to make use of a loophole in Turkey’s election law and ran their candidates as independents; with this strategy, they were able to pick up 35 seats (roughly 6% of the parliament).
So, these are the political parties in Turkey’s current parliament. Arranged ideologically from left to right (more or less…) by party family, we would have:
- BDP (Ethno-regional / Social Dem) & CHP (Social Dem)
- AKP (“Christian” Dem/ Conservative)
- MHP (Far Right)
To wrap it up, Turkey’s parliament is currently made up of 2 Social Democrat parties (one of them Kurdish) and 2 Muslim conservative parties. Of the 2 Muslim parties, the AKP receives the most electoral support, and their moderate position on religion could be compared to the Christian Democratic parties that lead several European governments (including Germany). Even with its other issues with democracy, the Turkish party system is a neat comparative case and not a bad model for other countries in the region!
- Landon Thomas, Jr. 2011. In Turkey’s Example, Some See Map for Egypt. The New York Times, 5 February. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/06/world/middleeast/06turkey.html.
- Dan Bilefsky and Sebnem Arsu. 2012. Charges Against Journalists Dim the Democratic Glow in Turkey. The New York Times, 4 January. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/05/world/europe/turkeys-glow-dims-as-government-limits-free-speech.html?pagewanted=all.
- Anthony Shadid and David D. Kirkpatrick. 2011. The Irish Times, 3 October. Retrieved from http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2011/1003/1224305143523.html.
- Turkey. 2011. Retrieved from the Parties and Elections in Europe website at http://www.parties-and-elections.de/turkey.html.
- Party Programme. 2012 Retrieved from the Justice and Development Party website at http://www.akparti.org.tr/english/akparti/parti-programme.
- CDU Party Manifesto. 2007. Freedom and Security: Principles for Germany (English). Retrieved from http://www.kas.de/wf/en/33.13533.
- Party History. 2010. Retrieved from the Republican People’s Party website at http://www.chp.org.tr/en/?page_id=67.
- Profile: Devlet Bahceli. 27 May 2011. Retrieved from Al Jazeera at http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/spotlight/turkeyelection/2011/05/2011526121816192262.html.
- Turkish top court bans pro-Kurdish party. 11 December 2009. Retrieved from the BBC at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8408903.stm.
- Violence follows DTP ban in Turkey. 13 December 2009. Retrieved from Al Jazeera at http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2009/12/200912136152398809.html.
- Peace and Democracy Party. 2012. Retrieved from http://international.bdp.org.tr/.
The Assignment Prompt
List and categorize the major political parties from your country.
Info to include: Find a list of all the political parties that received at least five seats in parliament during your country’s last election (lower house only!). Using the party families covered in the book (Chapter 2) or discussed in class, classify each party into the party families and arrange them roughly from left to right. These party families include:
|Socialists / Social Democrats||Liberals||Agrarian / Centre Parties|
|Greens (New Left)||Christian Democrats||Conservatives|
Also, describe whether each is a major or a minor party in your country’s political scene; list the percent of (national) vote this party received in the last election, and the percent of seats it holds in the current parliament.
Blog writing tip for students: Write short paragraphs! Readers interact with online sources differently than print sources (they do a lot more skimming). While too short for a professional paper, 1-2 sentence paragraphs are perfectly acceptable in blogs.
My assessment of the sample: Party classification and description can be a bit boring, so I needed a theme a non-academic reader would find interesting. When I started writing this blog, I remembered a New York Times article a few months back about how Turkey’s AKP might serve as a model for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
I couldn’t find the original article, but a news search brought up a couple similar stories. They became the basis of my new theme and argument – how Turkey’s political party system can act as a role model for new democracies (a hot topic thanks to the Arab Spring). Current event themes are great for blogs, especially if you can provide them information they’re not getting elsewhere!