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  • Consolidating Turkish Democracy
  • Metin Heper (bio)

The great obstacle that Turkish politics continually confronts is the challenge of legitimacy. Since the beginning of competitive politics in the mid-1940s, severe tensions between the government and the opposition have repeatedly jeopardized the legitimacy of civilian rule and multipartism. Indeed, government-opposition conflicts played a major role in sparking the three military interventions (of 1960, 1971, and 1980) that have punctuated Turkish politics since the Second World War.

The tensions in question surfaced again not long after the 1983 resumption of civilian rule following the military intervention of 1980. Relations between the Motherland Party (ANAP) of president and former prime minister Turgut Özal and its rivals have been strained for years.

After ruling for most of the 1980s, the ANAP faltered badly in the parliamentary elections of 20 October 1991. Winning only 24 percent of the total vote and 115 seats in the 450-member, unicameral National Assembly (down from 36 percent and 292 seats in 1987), the ANAP trailed its center-right rival, the True Path Party (DYP), which garnered 27 percent of the vote and 178 seats. The new government, formed by DYP leader and former prime minister Süleyman Demirel in late autumn 1991, is an alliance between the DYP and the center-left Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP) of Erdal İnönü, which polled 21 percent and garnered 88 seats. (The Prosperity, or Welfare, Party [RP], a pro-Islamic coalition that had failed to win any seats in 1987, more than [End Page 105] doubled its share of the total vote to 17 percent and gained 62 seats in the new Assembly. The Democratic Left Party [DSP] of former premier Bülent Ecevit, meanwhile, won almost 11 percent of the vote but only 7 parliamentary seats.) The 266-seat DYP-SHP bloc has installed the first coalition government that Turkey has seen since the 1970s, a decade of political instability and partisan infighting that began and ended with the military interventions of 1971 and 1980. In both those cases, the civilian premier whom the generals unseated was Süleyman Demirel.

The persistence of grave tensions in Turkish political life is not surprising, for they are deeply rooted in the differing conceptions of democracy espoused by each of the country's two key elites. The state elite, traditionally comprising military officers, senior government administrators, and some associated politicians, long tended to conceive of democracy "vertically," seeing it as a matter of political responsibility. This clashed with the view of the political elite, which consisted mostly of elected officials who saw themselves as the people's representatives and placed heavy emphasis on the "horizontal" character of democracy as political participation.1

The state elite traditionally thought of democracy as primarily a matter of enlightened debate aimed at discerning the "one best way" to solve any given problem.2 The three military governments since World War II were informed by similar ideas about democracy: in each case, the soldiers attempted to readjust democracy to make it more rational, and then quickly returned to their barracks. Not surprisingly, the state elite's model of democracy left little room for elected politicians, who were often suspected of indifference toward the long-term interests of the nation.

This attitude on the part of the state elite reflected the sharp rift that has always divided the center from the periphery in Ottoman as well as in modern times. Under the Ottoman sultans, the center lived in constant fear of centrifugal tendencies and habitually met any provincial stirrings with an attitude of rigid intolerance.3 Oft-suppressed peripheral elements reacted by seizing every opportunity to defy the central authorities, thus reinforcing their original suspicions. Since the Republican era began in 1923, the state elite has seen itself as the guardian of Atatürkism—the Turkish state's official ideology of republicanism, nationalism, populism, secularism, étatism, and reformism—and suspected the politicians of tending to violate such norms. Following each military intervention, therefore, the state elite sought to impose constitutional limits on political activity. As a consequence, Turkey's political elite has been perennially preoccupied with defending the horizontal understanding of democracy as political participation.

Despite this...


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