Country Listing

Turkey Table of Contents


Politics and the Return to Civilian Rule

The draft of a new constitution was presented by the Consultative Assembly to the nation on July 17, 1982. In providing for a strong presidency, it took partial inspiration from the 1958 constitution that established France's Fifth Republic. The constitution was put to a national referendum on November 7, 1982, and received approval from 91.4 percent of the electorate. The only parts of the country to register significant "no" votes were those with large Kurdish populations. Included in the vote was approval of Evren as president for a seven-year term. He took office on November 9, 1982.

A new law on political parties was issued in March 1983, which included a ten-year ban on all politicians active in the pre-September 1980 period. Parties were invited to form so as to contest parliamentary elections later in the year but were required to receive approval from the military rulers. Of fifteen parties requesting certification, only three received approval: the Motherland Party (Anavatan Partisi--ANAP), the Populist Party (Halkçi Partisi--HP), and the Nationalist Democracy Party (Milliyetçi Demokrasi Partisi--MDP), the latter being the clear favorite of the military.

The Motherland Party was led by Turgut Özal, who had helped formulate the economic stabilization plan under the 1979 Demirel government and then implemented the program under the military government. Özal was able to draw on support from a broad coalition of forces from the political landscape of the 1970s. The Motherland Party drew to its ranks adherents of the old Justice Party, the Islamist National Salvation Party, and the extreme right-wing Nationalist Action Party. The Populist Party, which came closest to expressing the traditional Kemalist values of the CHP, was led by Necdet Calp. The Nationalist Democracy Party was seen by the electorate as the party of the generals, who openly supported it. Its leader, Turgut Sunalp, was a retired general. The Motherland Party came to be viewed by the electorate as the most distant from the military, and its success in the first postcoup election may be largely attributed to this perception.

In parliamentary elections held on November 6, 1983, the Motherland Party won 45.2 percent of the vote and an absolute majority of seats in the new unicameral National Assembly. The Populist Party won 30.5 percent of the vote, and the Nationalist Democracy Party obtained only 23.3 percent of the vote. The results were widely viewed as a rebuke to the military.

Municipal elections followed the parliamentary elections early the following year. Prior to the March 25, 1984, election date, the assembly voted to allow some of the banned parties to participate. Among the new parties were the Social Democratic Party (Sosyal Demokrat Parti--Sodep), led by university professor Erdal Inönü, son of Turkey's second president, and the True Path Party (Dogru Yol Partisi--DYP), led unofficially by Süleyman Demirel. The Motherland Party continued as Turkey's leading party, claiming 41.5 percent of the vote nationwide; the Social Democratic Party drew 23.5 percent, and the True Path Party 13.5 percent. Another new party with a religious orientation, the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi--RP; also seen as Prosperity Party), garnered 4.5 percent.

The two parties that had competed with the Motherland Party in the previous general elections now appeared even weaker, receiving some 7 percent of the vote each. The 1984 municipal elections would be the last in which each would compete. In November 1985, the Populist Party merged with the Social Democratic Party, and in May 1986 the leadership of the Nationalist Democracy Party voted to dissolve the organization. Most of the party faithful found a new home in the broad spectrum that made up the Motherland Party; others joined the True Path Party. At this time, Ecevit also emerged with a rival left-of-center party, the Democratic Left Party (Demokratik Sol Partisi--DSP), officially led by his wife, Rahsan.

In national elections for local government officials held on September 28, 1986, Özal's party saw its popularity decline, although it still garnered a plurality of votes. The Motherland Party received 32 percent of votes cast, compared with 23.7 percent for the True Path Party, which emerged as the second largest party at a time when Demirel, its de facto leader, was still officially banned from politics. The product of a merger, the new Social Democratic Populist Party (Sosyal Demokrat Halkçi Parti--SHP) took 22.7 percent of the vote; the DSP drew 8.5 percent. Following this election, Özal found himself under increasing pressure to restore the political rights of the banned politicians. The assembly repealed the provisional article of the constitution that would have banned them from political activity until 1991.

Following the constitutional amendments, which also enlarged the National Assembly to 450 seats, the prime minister announced that assembly elections would be held early, on November 29. Özal also amended the election laws to increase the advantage to large parties, which under existing laws already stood to gain from minimum-threshold provisions and the manner in which extra seats were allocated. The Motherland Party saw its electoral percentage drop to 36.3 percent, nearly 10 percentage points below its 1983 total, but given the late amendments to the electoral law, the party retained an absolute majority in the assembly with 292 seats, or 65 percent of the total. The SHP won 24.8 percent of the vote and received 22 percent of the seats; Demirel's party won 19.2 percent of the vote but only 13 percent of the seats. The leader of the True Path Party denounced the late changes to the election law and dubbed the new government the "election-law government." None of the other parties competing reached the required 10 percent threshold; Ecevit's DSP received 8.5 percent of the vote, while Erbakan's Welfare Party received less than 7 percent.

In 1989, as Evren's term as president drew to an end, Özal announced that he would seek to succeed him. This decision was made despite the steadily declining popularity of Özal and the Motherland Party. In municipal elections on March 26, the Motherland Party polled only 21.9 percent of the vote, third behind the SHP's 28.2 percent and the True Path Party's 25.6 percent. On October 30, 1989, parliament elected Özal Turkey's eighth president. He was sworn in on November 9, after Bayar the second civilian in modern Turkish history to hold the position.

Özal's popularity declined steadily, largely because of problems in the economy. Of particular concern was the recurrence of high inflation, which had returned to precoup levels and was rapidly eroding the purchasing power of most Turks. Coupled with economic difficulties were widespread perceptions of government corruption and nepotism, which forced the resignation of several members of Özal's government.

In the summer of 1990, the crisis in the Persian Gulf resulting from Iraq's invasion of Kuwait gave Özal the opportunity to regain the political initiative. The Turkish government moved quickly to support UN sanctions against Iraq, on August 7 stopping the flow of oil through the pipeline from Iraq to Turkey's Mediterranean coast. In September the assembly voted to allow foreign troops onto Turkish soil and to authorize Turkish troops to serve in the Persian Gulf. Opposition parties found little to offer in the way of other options. Özal no doubt hoped that Turkey's willing participation in the United States-led coalition would strengthen the country's image abroad as a crucial ally, a particular concern in the post-Cold War world. Some have speculated that he hoped Turkish involvement would lead to EC admission, much as Turkey's participation in the Korean War had provided the opportunity to join NATO. The government authorized the use of the air base at Incirlik by Allied aircraft in the bombing campaign against Iraq. In addition, Turkish troops were deployed along the Turkish-Iraqi border, although Ankara insisted that it did not intend to open a second front against Iraq and that it remained committed to Iraq's territorial integrity.

In the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, Iraqi Kurds attempted to throw off the rule of Saddam Husayn in northern Iraq, following encouragement by United States officials. The uprising, which failed to receive support from the allied coalition, was quickly crushed, leading a massive number of Iraqi Kurdish civilians to seek safety in Iran and Turkey. The Turkish government was unable or unwilling to permit several hundred thousand refugees to enter the country. The coalition allies, together with Turkey, proposed the creation of a "security zone" in northern Iraq. By mid-May 1991, some 200,000 Kurdish refugees had been persuaded to return to Iraq.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and its East European bloc had significant implications for Turkey's foreign policy. In the trans-Caucasian region of the former Soviet Union, the armed conflict between the newly independent republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region found the Turkish government trying to remain above the fray, despite popular sympathy for the Azerbaijani claims. Turkey sought close ties with the new republics of Central Asia, arguing that Turkey's experience as a secular republic could serve as a useful model for these states.

Relations with Bulgaria, which were strained by the faltering communist regime's persecution of ethnic Turkish Bulgarians in the late 1980s, improved following that regime's collapse. The new government abandoned the campaign of ethnic harassment. Elsewhere in the Balkans, Turkey maintained close relations with Albania and established contact with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Relations with Greece continued to be complicated by long-standing differences over Cyprus and naval and air rights in the Aegean Sea. In 1986 Özal paid an official visit to the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which to date remains without diplomatic recognition from any state other than Turkey. In March 1987, Greece and Turkey nearly came to blows over oil-drilling rights in the Aegean Sea. Nevertheless, both countries' governments displayed a willingness to emphasize diplomacy over force. In June 1989, Özal became the first Turkish prime minister to visit Athens in thirty-six years. Talks on the future of Cyprus, held under UN auspices, have remained inconclusive, and the island remains under a de facto partition after more than twenty years.

Turkey's 1991 parliamentary elections may have been the most significant since the restoration of civilian rule. Political power passed peacefully from the Motherland Party to its major rival, the True Path Party. In the vote held on October 21, Demirel's party won about 27 percent and captured the largest block of seats, 178. The Motherland Party, widely predicted as destined for oblivion, surprised its critics by polling some 24 percent of the vote and winning 115 seats. The SHP, which had expected to do better, won 20.8 percent of the vote, or eighty-eight seats. Left-of-center votes were split between the SHP and the DSP; the latter gained about 10.8 percent of the vote and seven seats. The Welfare Party appeared to do very well, with 16.9 percent and sixty-two seats, but this result reflected a strategic decision to join forces with another religiously oriented party in order to surpass the 10 percent threshold. Following the elections, the alliance was dissolved in the assembly. Although the Motherland and True Path parties were not too far apart ideologically, the personal discord between Özal and Demirel precluded any coalition arrangement. Instead, Demirel made common cause with Erdal Inönü's SHP, an alliance with the left that he had resisted throughout the 1970s. The coalition controlled 266 seats in parliament and reflected the support of almost 48 percent of the electorate.

Defining the place of the Kurdish ethnic minority in Turkey remained a difficult challenge throughout this period; indeed, it may have ranked as the primary challenge to domestic political stability. Given the founding principles of the Turkish republic, conceiving the country as the homeland of the Turks, any proposed recognition of Kurdish linguistic or cultural rights has been questioned on the grounds that such recognition would threaten the unity of the Turkish nation.

President Özal went farther than any Turkish official in extending recognition of Kurdish identity when, in January 1991, he proposed rescinding a law prohibiting the playing of Kurdish music or the use of Kurdish speech. Law 2932, passed in 1983 (declaring the mother tongue of Turkish citizens to be Turkish), was repealed in April 1991, thereby legalizing Kurdish speech, song, and music. Proposals were also floated for a relaxation of the ban on Kurdish in the print and broadcast media and in education, but such liberalization did not occur.

Since the restoration of civilian rule, Turkish governments have been faced with the armed insurrection of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (Partiya Karkeran Kurdistan--PKK). The PKK, one of several armed Kurdish guerrilla organizations, was founded by Abdullah Öcalan in 1978. Öcalan fled to Syria after the 1980 coup. The PKK, which was officially banned by the Turkish government, began a sustained guerrilla campaign in March 1984, timed to coincide with the beginning of the Kurdish new year. The conflict, which between 1984 and 1994 claimed about 12,000 lives, showed no signs of abating by the early 1990s. The Turkish army was unable to defeat the PKK with military force alone, while the PKK was no closer to its goal of an independent Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey (see Political Parties, ch. 4; Kurdish Separatists, ch. 5).

Data as of January 1995

Country Listing

Turkey Table of Contents