A radical change in the Turkish political tradition

Published 28.07.2018 00:36

By the Imperial Edict of Gülhane in 1839, the Ottoman Empire had adopted the Western public administration, while a multiparty system was introduced with the proclamation of the First Constitutional Era in 1876. The Parliament was suspended in 1878, and the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II lasted thirty years and concluded with the proclamation of the Second Constitutional Era in 1908. While the Empire had engaged in the First World War, a highly centralized bureaucracy had seized the control of the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic. Under such bureaucratic tutelage, a modern nation-state was formed with a Western political foundation.

During this historical process, the Committee of Union and Progress had contributed to the formation of the Turkish political tradition in an essential way. Although it has been accused of accelerating the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Committee that was founded in Thessaloniki and rapidly spread to all major cities of the Empire had paved the way for the organization of resistance against the occupying forces after the end of the World War.

During their period of political power, the members of the Committee controlled politics not through democratic procedures, but through intrigues and coup d'états. When Enver Pasha had become the Chief of General Defense, he founded the famous Teşkılat-ı Mahsusa (Special Organization) to fight against the British. The patriotic members of this secret organization had not only provided intelligence, but also directly fought against the enemy. The Committee constituted the political tradition of the Republican People's Party (CHP), the political party that founded the Turkish Republic, which reflected a nationalist, patriotic but anti-democratic mentality.

After the conclusion of the long-lasting one-party regime of the CHP with a multi-party system in 1950, a number of dissident members within the CHP founded the opposition Democrat Party (DP) as its principal rival for seizing political power. In the course of time, the Nationalist People's Party (MHP) and the National Salvation Party (MSP), representing respectively a national and Islamic political tradition, were involved in the Turkish politics together with a number of marginal leftist political parties.

Turkish people have always been a highly political people who have closely followed political proceedings and taken part in the democratic competition between political parties. As a result, political parties in Turkey have always been mass parties and thus played major roles in the history of Turkish democracy.

In this respect, Turkish political parties have always had an essential influence in the formation of their voters' political identity. Today, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), the CHP, the MHP, and the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) not only represent the electorate, but also form their political identities.

It is surely beyond doubt that with the introduction of the presidential system, all major political traditions and attitudes will undergo fundamental changes. The focus of politics has already moved from political parties towards their presidential candidates.

In the current presidential system, as each presidential candidate must aim at taking at least 51% of the total votes, political parties are forced to appeal to a much wider political spectrum.

Therefore, we are currently witnessing a radical change in the Turkish political tradition, as the new political system concludes with a democratic system that relies more on individual politicians than on political parties, which in turn need to move toward the center for achieving political success.

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