Turkey Political System
Short for TR by Abbreviationfinder, Turkey is a parliamentary democracy, but a democracy with restrictions. The country has a strong authoritarian heritage, where military and judges often put the will of the people out of play. The legacy of the country’s father, Kemal Atatürk, has characterized Turkey and his successors, the Kemalists, have taken care of the secular state created from the waste of the Ottoman Empire. It was only during the 2000s that the state was influenced to some extent by Muslim traditions. In 2018, the president’s power was strengthened again, now with an Islamist in the post.
Kemalism has long served as an overall state ideology. Dedicated chemists have existed within the military, bureaucracy and the judiciary, but chemicalism has been primarily a metropolitan phenomenon. From about the 1990s, the proportion of believing Muslims within the various branches of the state apparatus increased, in parallel with religious parties becoming more prominent.
- Countryaah: Total population and chart of Turkey for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024. Also covers population density, birth rate, death rate and population growth rates.
Islam’s political advance began in the 1970s, when many Islamist conservatives rallied around Necmettin Erbakan and his ideology millî görüş, roughly: “the national vision.” Around the turn of the millennium, this minority split. A minority stayed within conservative Islamism, a line that already led to several parties were banned, while the majority advocated an economically liberal and Western-friendly policy, which formed the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP), which since 2002 had total dominance over Turkey’s policy and transformed the country from the ground up.
AKP’s government holdings have pushed the contradictions between religious and secularists to the forefront and exposed strong polarization in society. But since about 2013, contradictions have also emerged within the religious right that have had devastating consequences. Many of the religious judges, prosecutors, military, police, teachers and journalists who increased their influence under the auspices of the AKP have known their main loyalty to the Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen, who has led a vast network from the country’s escape in the United States, called Hizmet(the service), with branches in the school system, but also large parts of the rest of society. Gülenism has been considered to be a moderate interpretation of Islam and advocates peaceful coexistence and dialogue with other religions. The AKP and the Gülen movement worked long time side by side, promoting each other’s interests, until the Gülenist prosecutors began to investigate alleged corruption within the AKP’s higher strata. Then the government started to get rid of Gülenists in most sectors of society. The killings increased to storm force following an attempted military coup in July 2016 which was blamed on Gülen by the government (read more in Current Politics).
After the 1980 military coup, a new constitution was added. The rights of the state were consistently set before the individual. Fundamental rights were promised, but not to those who were guilty of “violating the indivisible integrity of the state”. A ban on insulting state institutions and representatives, such as the president and the military, was also emphasized.
The constitution’s fundamentally undemocratic structure was increasingly criticized in the new political climate of 2002. In the autumn of 2010, a number of constitutional amendments were adopted, some of which cut the influence of the military. The changes made it possible to bring the coup leaders from 1980 to justice and civil courts were given the right to prosecute militants for crimes against the state in peacetime. Furthermore, the military courts lost the right to prosecute civilians. The reforms also reduced the power of the judiciary. The number of judges in the Constitutional Court was increased, the Parliament and the President gained greater influence over the appointments and the term of office of the judges was cut from life to twelve years. An ombudsman was appointed to represent citizens against the state.
In October 2011, the four parliamentary parties began preparing a new constitution, the first in Turkey not dictated by the military. The work dragged on over time, mainly due to the opposition’s reluctance for a government proposal for a strong presidential office, tailor-made for the then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In November 2013, Parliament’s special committee gave up the attempts to unite, but the AKP has pushed the issue forward and implemented a strong presidential system that on paper may resemble that in the United States but lacks the balancing powers of the US Constitution.
The President of Turkey was previously appointed by Parliament for a term of seven years and could not be re-elected. Now the president is elected in general elections for a term of five years and can be re-elected.
As of 2018, Parliament consists of a chamber of 600 members. To get into Parliament, a party must get at least 10 percent of the vote; the alternative is to enter into an alliance with other parties. The high threshold was introduced by the latest military regime 1980-83 and was motivated by the need to create strong one-party governments. It was also clear that the intention was to shut out Kurdish and Islamist parties that were never expected to receive such a large share of the votes. However, the rule has also had the effect that a large part of the electorate has been unrepresented in Parliament when their parties have failed to reach the threshold. After the 2002 elections, more than half the electorate had no influence over Parliament. Instead, in the 2000s, these “wasted” votes were transformed into extra mandates for the few who took in,
The President may veto Parliament’s bill, but the veto may be repealed by Parliament. By a two-thirds majority, Parliament can change the constitution, but the president can then request that the change be confirmed in a referendum.
In January 2017, Parliament approved a large number of amendments to the Constitution that give the President greatly expanded power. The amendments were approved by a slight margin in a referendum. They came into force after the contemporaneous, and earlier, parliamentary and presidential elections that were held at midsummer 2018.
The post of prime minister has been abolished and the executive power transferred to the president. He is now both head of state and government and does not have to stand over party politics. The president himself can appoint all ministers and a free number of vice presidents and appoint or dismiss senior officials without Parliament’s approval. The president is given responsibility for the state budget and can to some extent govern by decree, however, not in matters relating to human rights or personal liberty or contrary to applicable laws. The Constitutional Court is given the opportunity to review the President’s actions, but the majority of the Court’s members are appointed by the President. The number of MPs has increased (from 550). The eligible age is reduced from 25 to 18 years. Parliament’s term of office is extended from four to five years and elections shall be held on the same day as the presidential election. The president gets the right to dissolve parliament and announce new elections, which, however, automatically also leads to a new presidential election. The president can be elected for a maximum of two five-year terms, but if Parliament decides to announce new elections during the second term of the president, he has the right to stand for re-election.
1935 was the first year that women were allowed to sit in parliament. Then 18 women were selected. In 2015, Parliament received just under 15 percent female members. After the 2018 election, the share has risen to 17 percent: 103 out of 600 members according to the news agency Anatolia. The difference is great between the parties. In the HDP, almost 40 percent of parliamentarians are women and among the AKP’s MPs, the proportion of women increased from 11 to 18 percent. In the other parties, the proportion is below ten percent.
The military has had much greater political influence than is accepted in European democracies. Three times – 1960, 1971 and 1980 – the generals have taken power for a time, and in 1997 the military forced an Islamist conservative government to step down. The coup attempt in 2016 failed, but the armed forces have had a high reputation in broad peoples.
After the 1980 coup, the National Security Council (MGK) became a very important body, where governments must consult with the military on all crucial issues. The Council is chaired by the President. From 2002, however, the military relinquished part of its power to civilian politicians. In 2003, Parliament, following pressure from the EU, passed crucial restrictions on the Security Council’s powers. The military’s position in Turkish politics has since been further weakened.
The semi-military forces are counted as the gendarmerie, who performs the same tasks in the countryside as the police in the cities. The gendarmerie is administratively under the Ministry of the Interior but is part of the military structure.
Turkey is administratively divided into 81 provinces led by a government appointed by the government. Each province is divided into a number of districts.
The judiciary does not live up to European standards. Different laws are at odds with each other and the rule of law is deficient. The highest number of public courts is the Constitutional Court and the Court of Appeal (also called the Court of Cassation). There has been a system of military courts, but they were abolished by the constitutional amendments that came into force in 2018.
Since 2002, Turkish politics has been dominated by the Islamist Conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has won big in several elections in a row. The party’s founder and leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is the most influential politician since the Republic’s founder Kemal Atatürk. Erdoğan was prime minister from 2003 to 2014, when he was elected president, and the victory in the 2018 presidential election extends his power. The party’s core voters are mostly value-conservative Sunni Muslims from rural cities, but the AKP has also attracted small and medium-sized entrepreneurs attracted by its liberal and business-friendly economic policies. Many metropolitan intellectuals initially supported the AKP for the democratic reforms the party pushed through during the first term of office.
Gradually, the AKP began to lose its will to reform. The party had established itself as a ruler, largely eliminated the threats from the military and the judiciary, and was no longer so reliant on keeping up with an EU that appeared to have partially lost interest in Turkey. The AKP began to try to permanently hold its power, among other things by widening its ground with defectors from other conservative parties, but also became increasingly authoritarian.
The main proponent of a strictly secular policy is the Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, CHP). The party was founded by Atatürk but has undergone many transformations since then. Formerly referred to as Social Democratic, it has almost emerged as a nationalist during the 2000s and has stood on the military side against the democratic forces. CHP’s current leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is mentioned in the context of so-called neo-Malism, a movement that maintains Turkey’s ties with the Western world but wants to modernize and liberalize chemicalism.
The National Action Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi, MHP) is a right-wing party that cultivates a more “ethnic” nationalism than the mainstream of chemists. The party has a predominantly fascist background and the organization Gray Wolves, informally regarded as the MHP’s youth association, was behind a large number of murders of political opponents during the violent 1970s in Turkey. Under its current leader Devlet Bahçeli, the party has been sanitized and distanced from violence in politics. Among other things, the MHP demands that Turkey not leave Cyprus. MHP is also strongly opposed to all thoughts of Kurdish self-determination. Prior to the 2018 election, MHP entered into a collaboration with the AKP and achieved better results than expected, which led to the AKP being able to maintain its grip on the political decisions despite weakening voter support for their own part.
Other traditionally chemist parties in the political middle ground, which were important in the 1980s and 1990s, have played their part after the AKP entered the scene. None of them have even received one percent of the vote since the 2007 election.
Politicians representing the Kurdish minority have had a hard time making their voices heard. In the 2007 and 2011 elections, Kurdish politicians entered the parliament as independent candidates, for which the ten percent block does not apply, and then formed a party group. The legal pro-Kurdish parties formed since the early 1990s were banned on a continuous basis by the Constitutional Court on the grounds that they had gone to the prohibited Kurdish PKK guerrilla cases, after which they immediately resumed under a new name and with a new program. In 2012, the People’s Democratic Party was formed (Halkların Demokratik Partisi / Partiya Demokratik a Gelén, HDP), which is also pro-Kurdish but has a broader left-wing ideological appearance and greater opportunity to attract voters from other parts of society. As the first mainly Kurdish party, in the June 2015 elections, the ten percent threshold succeeded, giving it so many mandates that the AKP lost a two-thirds majority and thus the opportunity to write a new constitution on its own. In the November election in November of that year, HDP returned after being subjected to harsh demands from the government for allegedly conspiring with the PKK, but it cleared the barrier again and still withheld the AKP’s long-awaited absolute majority. In 2018, the HDP once again passed the ten percent barrier, but in the parliament elected, the AKP can continue to dominate the policy as a result of its election alliance with the MHP.
In response to increasing power gathering around President Erdoğan, a former MHP politician formed the 2017 Iyi Party (The Good Party, IP) with the hope of gathering non-socialist voters concerned by the erosion of democracy. The party entered into an alliance with several opposition parties ahead of the 2018 elections, thereby gaining representation in the parliament despite not quite reaching the ten percent threshold on its own.
The pro-Kurdish HDP stands outside the cooperation of the other opposition parties.
Parties that are considered to threaten the unity of the state or its secular character or who have a Marxist program are prohibited. These include the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan, PKK).
When the PKK was formed in 1978, its goal was to establish a communist state in the Kurdish areas inhabited by Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. From 1984, the PKK led a guerrilla war against the Turkish state. In 1999, PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was arrested, who is now imprisoned for life. However, Öcalan has continued to control PKK from its cell and to a certain extent also the legal Kurdish parties. The conflict has flared up in turns, but in 2013 the government initiated a peace process and Öcalan was given a new formal role again. However, the process was interrupted in 2015 after taking some time off and since then the government has adopted a stubborn and irreconcilable attitude towards the PKK.
An organization that calls itself the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) has taken on several suicide attacks. It is unclear if it is an outbreak group from the PKK, or if the name is used in attacks that hit many civilians and which the PKK’s leadership does not want to stand in public.
There are a number of extreme religious small parties that are all banned, but which have not been particularly active in recent years.
The Islamic State (IS), which once controlled large areas in Syria and Iraq and has been behind terrorist attacks in Europe and other parts of the world, is still believed to have quite a few supporters in Turkey.
The most active left-wing movement is the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party / Front (DHKP-C), which has carried out a series of terrorist attacks and is classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the EU.