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Political Parties

Prior to 1950, the Republic of Turkey was essentially a one-party state ruled by the Republican People's Party, which had been created by Atatürk to implement the Six Arrows of Kemalism. Although there had been abortive experiments with "loyal opposition" parties in the mid-1920s and in 1930, it was not until 1946 that the CHP permitted political parties to form and contest elections, albeit in a politically controlled environment. The Democrat Party was founded in 1946 by CHP members who were dissatisfied with the authoritarian style of the CHP but who otherwise supported the party's Kemalist principles. The DP emphasized the need to end various restrictions on personal freedom so that Turkey could become a democracy. Reform of laws governing political parties and electoral activities--measures that would enable the DP to compete on an equal basis with the CHP--were enacted prior to the 1950 parliamentary elections. Consequently, those elections were the first free ones since the founding of the republic in 1923. The DP won a large majority of seats in the assembly and thus took over the government from the CHP.

The DP retained control of the government throughout the 1950s, a period during which it enacted legislation that restricted news media freedom and various civil liberties. As the DP steadily became less tolerant of dissent, the CHP gradually moved in the opposite direction, abandoning its authoritarian stance and becoming an advocate of civil rights. The DP's efforts to suppress opposition to its policies provoked a political crisis that culminated in a May 1960 military coup. The DP subsequently was dissolved, but the Justice Party, which was established in 1961, was widely perceived as its successor and attracted most of its supporters. In the 1961 parliamentary elections that led to the restoration of civilian government, the Justice Party won the second largest number of seats and thus established itself as the principal competitor of the CHP, which had won a plurality of seats. In the subsequent nineteen years, the rivalry between the Justice Party and the CHP remained a significant feature of Turkish politics. Although both parties proclaimed their loyalty to Kemalist ideals, they evolved distinct ideological positions. Süleyman Demirel, who became leader of the Justice Party in 1964, favored economic policies that benefited private entrepreneurs and industrialists. In contrast, Bülent Ecevit, who became leader of the CHP in 1965, believed in a form of democratic socialism that included government intervention aimed at regulating private business and protecting workers and consumers. The views of these two men and the positions of their respective parties became increasingly polarized after 1972.

The inability of either the Justice Party or the CHP to win parliamentary majorities and the refusal of both Demirel and Ecevit to cooperate politically necessitated the formation of numerous coalition and minority-party governments. These governments proved ineffective at devising policies to cope with Turkey's economic and social problems, which became steadily more serious throughout the 1970s. Various groups on the extreme right and the extreme left formed illegal political organizations that resorted to violence in pursuit of their objectives, which for certain groups included the overthrow of the government. The apparent inability of governments--whether dominated by the Justice Party or by the CHP--to control increasing terrorism in urban areas contributed to a general sense of insecurity and crisis and served as the catalyst for the 1980 coup. Blaming politicians for the country's political impasse, the military sought to end partisan politics by dissolving the old parties and banning all activity by the politicians deemed responsible for the crisis. Although the formation of new parties was authorized in 1983, none was allowed to use the name of any of the banned parties from the precoup past. Nevertheless, most of Turkey's existing parties in early 1995 were transparent continuations of earlier parties.

True Path Party

In January 1995, the True Path Party (Dogru Yol Partisi--DYP) was the senior partner in Turkey's coalition government. It was a continuation of the Justice Party, and its leader from 1987 until 1993 was Demirel. Because Demirel was barred from political activity prior to late 1987, his close associate, Hüsamettin Cindoruk, became the party's titular chair when the True Path Party was established in 1983. However, Demirel was the driving force behind the party, raising money and campaigning on its behalf despite being banned from political action. Demirel promoted economic policies similar to those he had advocated as leader of the Justice Party, updated, however, to reflect changing economic conditions resulting from international political developments between 1989 and 1991.

The True Path Party's rise from political pariah to ruling party was gradual. In 1983 the military government prohibited the party's participation in the parliamentary elections, effectively shutting it out of the legal political process. However, a gain of thirty-five seats in the National Assembly resulted in 1986 when the Nationalist Democracy Party dissolved itself and most of its deputies joined the True Path Party. Subsequently the party won fifty-nine seats in the 1987 parliamentary elections, and Demirel returned to the National Assembly as a deputy for the first time since the military coup. The party's performance four years later was even more impressive: the True Path Party tripled its representation to 178 seats and emerged from the 1991 elections with a plurality in the assembly. Demirel, who had served three times as prime minister before the 1980 coup and twice had been deposed by the military, succeeded in forming his fourth government by negotiating a coalition agreement with the SHP.

When the Demirel government assumed office in November 1991, it faced several political and economic challenges. Two important political issues eluding resolution were the increasing militancy of Kurdish demands for civil rights and the growing stridency of the confrontation between religious and secular elements of society. Although the True Path Party had no sympathy for Kurdish aspirations, its SHP partners tended to support cultural freedom for the Kurds and had a relatively strong political base in the Kurdish provinces. However, the SHP's ability to influence overall government policy on the Kurdish issue was limited because the military had assumed de facto decision-making authority for matters pertaining to southeastern Turkey and expected that civilian politicians would accept this role. There was also no consensus among either True Path Party or SHP leaders on how to handle Islamist aspirations. Whereas some True Path Party members believed it was possible to accommodate Islamist concerns, militant secularists opposed any concessions to those whom they termed "Islamic fundamentalists."

After President Özal suffered a fatal heart attack in April 1993, Demirel decided he wanted to be president. In accordance with the constitution, which mandated that the president be nonpartisan, Demirel resigned as the True Path Party's secretary general in May, after the National Assembly had elected him president. In June 1993, the party's deputies in the assembly chose as their new leader Tansu Çiller (b. 1946), the first woman to head a Turkish political party. Çiller, who had done graduate studies in economics in the United States, put together a new DYP-SHP coalition government that was approved by the assembly in July 1993, enabling her to become Turkey's first female prime minister.

Data as of January 1995

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