The Republican People’s Party (CHP) is the founding and thus the oldest political party in Turkey. Until Turkey’s transition to a multiparty electoral system, the CHP was the sole political party in the country. Under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founding father of the republic, and then that of İsmet İnönü, the CHP ruled the country singlehandedly for almost three decades.
After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, countries of the winning side occupied Turkey on all fronts. Thanks to our struggle for independence, the Republic of Turkey succeeded the Ottoman Empire. During the presidency of Atatürk, a series of initiatives aimed at establishing a multiparty system failed one by one.
The succeeding period of İnönü’s presidency turned out to be a period of coercive Westernization. Adopting a Jacobin perspective on religion, the İnönü period was marked with the banishment of the azan, the call to prayer, and religious education. Combined with the economic crisis that emerged due to World War II, and the lack of freedom of thought and faith resulted in an unbearable life for Turkish citizens.
After the end of World War II, the Cold War began between two opposing fronts led by the United States and the Soviet Union. Turkey’s transition to a multiparty system was a requirement for taking part in the "free world" of the U.S. Thus, a group of politicians who broke away from the CHP founded the Democrat Party (DP), which would rapidly come to power in 1950.
During the one-party period, the CHP ruled the country without any checks and balances. Just like the Ba’ath Parties of the Arabic countries, the CHP’s one-party state meant that the CHP’s provincial chairmen had at the same approach as the governors of their provinces.
In the first fair elections of the multiparty system, the newly founded DP took the upper hand thanks to its discourse of economic development and freedom of thought and faith. Instead of rejecting the Ottoman legacy, the DP embraced both the religious and historical values of the country. In 1960, a coup d’état overthrew the DP government, and the CHP seized political power by abusing their military-bureaucratic elite.
Supported by leading jurists of the day, the coup d’état of 1960 sentenced former Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, Foreign Minister Fatin Rüştü Zorlu and Finance Minister Hasan Polatkan to death. Though more than half a century has passed since their executions, the leaders of democratic political parties have continued to be threatened by supporters of military tutelage, an implicit reminder of the tragic fates of Menderes and his colleagues.
Following the end of World War II, the U.S. redesigned the constitutions of defeated Germany, Japan and Italy to ensure their allegiance to NATO via military tutelage. Strangely enough, Turkey would soon be treated in a similar manner. Turkey’s Constitution of 1961 institutionalized the military tutelage in Turkey by founding the National Security Council.
Thus, the CHP succeeded in taking hold of the civil and military-bureaucratic elite. Despite decades of other political parties winning elections and rising to power, the CHP had always been the essential source of political power. Keeping governments on a string, Turkey had been ruled by the civil and military-bureaucratic elite of the Western-influenced CHP.
When the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power in 2002, Turkey’s systemic habits changed drastically. Military tutelage was eventually eliminated, while the spy ring of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) was defeated after an attempted coup d’état was prevented by civil resistance.
Since the foundation of the Republic of Turkey, the CHP ruled the country both directly and indirectly. When the CHP lost its military and civilian bureaucratic power, it had to compete in civilian politics. So far, their civilian politics have not worked well.
Following their electoral failures, the CHP has resorted to cooperating with international actors. Despite the fact that the CHP has succeeded in metropolitan municipalities in the last local elections, conspiracies and intrigue dominate the party's structure.
Recently, allegations have surfaced regarding Muharrem İnce, a senior CHP member, visiting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the Presidential Complex in Ankara. Although both İnce and the president openly denied that such a visit happened, the CHP’s internal drama and factionalism continue to top Turkey’s political agenda.