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  • Party Politics and Social Cleavages in Turkey by Ergun Özbudun
  • Sabri Sayari (bio)
Party Politics and Social Cleavages in Turkey, by Ergun Özbudun. Boulder, CO and London: Lynne Rienner, 2013. 154 pages. $49.95.

In his latest book, Ergun Özbudun examines several selected aspects of party and electoral politics in Turkey. Following a brief review of the literature on the relationship between social cleavages and party systems in democracies, the author devotes the next two chapters to a detailed analysis of the historical origins and development of the center-periphery cleavage in Turkey and its effects on the contemporary Turkish party system. In the remaining three chapters, the author first focuses on what he terms the “three maladies” of Turkey’s party politics (fragmentation, volatility, and polarization), and then discusses the electoral systems that have been used during the past 60 years of electoral politics and the current debates on electoral reforms.

In an influential article published in 1973, Şerif Mardin proposed that the long-standing historical conflict between the rulers who controlled political power at the “center” and the subject masses of the “periphery” was a “key” to understanding Turkish politics.1 According to Mardin, the drive toward modernization and secularization during the formative years of Republican [End Page 653] Turkey under Atatürk had deepened the center-periphery cleavage inherited from the Ottoman Empire. Mardin also argued that with the beginning of party competition in the post–World War II era, the periphery became the main source of electoral support for the newly-formed Democrat Party (DP) while the incumbent Republican People’s Party (CHP), the party founded by Atatürk himself, continued to be identified with the center. Mardin’s analysis has since become the dominant paradigm in studies carried out by Turkish political scientists on parties and elections in Turkey. Özbudun also follows in Mardin’s footsteps and uses the center-periphery approach to explain the developments that have taken place in electoral politics since the early 1950s. According to the author, the fact that “parties representing the conservative/liberal center-right tendency have always obtained a strong majority of the votes” can be explained with reference “to the enduring effects of the basic cleavage in Turkey, described in this book as a center-periphery cleavage” (p. 3). Özbudun maintains that the recent trends in the party system, most notably the rise of pro-Islamist and Kurdish nationalist parties, reflect the continuing saliency of this historical conflict. According to the author while the periphery is now divided into two along the religious-conservative and ethnic-cultural-geographic lines, the center remains strongly identified with secularist and nationalist political tendencies.

While two major Turkish parties collectively obtained a large majority of the votes and the parliamentary seats from 1950 to 1960, this trend began to change in the aftermath of the 1960 military coup. Beginning in the 1961 elections, several minor parties succeeded in entering the parliament. Consequently, with the exception of the period 1965–71, Turkey was governed by coalition or minority governments between 1961 and 1980. During the 1970s the increased fragmentation in the party system was accompanied by a growing left/right ideological polarization. The simultaneous rise of fragmentation and polarization in party politics increased the strains on Turkey’s fragile democracy and eventually led to a regime breakdown in 1980 through a military intervention. The political engineering efforts of the officers who seized power put a temporary halt to fragmentation and polarization after transition from military to civilian rule in 1983. But both of these trends, accompanied by increased volatility in electoral preferences, returned in full force during the 1990s. It was only after the 2002 elections that Turkey witnessed a gradual stabilization of party competition since both electoral volatility and political fragmentation declined significantly. Unlike the previous decade when five to six parties gained parliamentary representation and governments could only be formed through coalitions, the number of relevant parties in the post-2002 period has been reduced to three and one of them — the pro-Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) — has succeeded in governing alone after scoring three successive electoral victories. Özbudun provides a comprehensive analysis of the sources...


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