Politics & Voting in Turkey

Turkey is a large nation with a complex political structure.

Introduction

Turkey has a unicameral Grand National Assembly (Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi). This means that, unlike most countries, there is only one house in the legislature. This contrasts with, for example, the US where you have the House of Representatives and the Senate; or the UK where you have the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

The Assembly has 550 seats, with members directly elected in multi-seat constituencies by proportional representation. They serve a four-year term. The next election is to be held in June 2019. Following the April 2017 constitutional referendum, this number will increase to 600 at the next election.

Can foreigners vote in Turkey? Video guide

You can get a quick overview of voting in Turkey by watching this video interview (below) with Turkish lawyer Başak Yıldız Orkun. Learn more by scrolling down and reading the detailed guide she has written with us.

Voting in Turkey

Voting rights – Turkish citizens

All Turkish citizens over the age of 18 have the right to vote in both national elections and local municipal elections.

Turkey was one of the first countries to give women the right to vote. Full suffrage for women dates back to 1934. About 15% of Turkey’s legislators are now women.

Voting rights – foreign residents of Turkey

Foreign residents cannot vote in Turkey – unless they take Turkish citizenship.

Political parties of Turkey

AKP

The Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi).

  • A conservative, right-wing party founded in 2001.
  • Current ruling party of Turkey. In power since 2002. Won 49.50% of the votes in 2015’s general election.
  • Headed by Binali Yıldırım – the Prime Minister.
  • Former party leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the President of Turkey. He stopped being head of the party when he became president in 2014.
  • The center of many controversies since its ascent to power: accusations of a lack of commitment to secular ideals; accusations of authoritarianism; corruption scandals leading to accusations of crony capitalism.
  • Survived a coup d’état attempt in 2016. Carried out huge purges of government workers in the aftermath – at least 40,000 arrests and many thousands more losing their jobs.

CHP

The Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi).

  • The main opposition to AKP. Won 25.32% of all votes in the 2015 election.
  • A centre-left, secular party, traditionally supported by academics, intellectuals, unions etc.
  • The oldest political party in Turkey. Founded in 1923 by national hero and founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
  • Currently lead by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
  • Former long-time leader (1992-2010) Deniz Baykal quit after a sex tape showing him sleeping with a married female coworker surfaced. Baykal, who was also married, maintained the tape was a “government plot”, although he did
  • n’t deny the affair.

HDP

The Peoples’ Democratic Party (Halkların Demokratik Partisi). 

  • Left-wing, egalitarian, minority-focused party. Founded in 2012.
  • Won 10.76% of the total votes in the 2015 general election.
  • A union of various left-wing movements that failed to pass Turkey’s 10% election threshold.
  • Lead by two people: one chairman and one chairwoman. Currently Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ respectively. During the 2014 presidential election, Demirtaş ran.
  • Criticised for mainly representing Kurdish interests in the south-east of Turkey.

MHP

The Nationalist Movement Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi). 

  • Far-right, nationalist, Eurosceptic party.
  • Founded in 1969 by Alparslan Türkeş.
  • Extremist (neo-fascist and ultranationalist) until it moderated its views somewhat under the leadership of Devlet Bahçeli, who has lead the party since 1997.
  • Received 11.90% of total votes in the 2015 election.
  • Closely linked with Ülkü Ocakları (Grey Wolves) – a militant, extremist right-wing group. Ülkü Ocakları have been behind various acts of political violence, including an attack on South Korean tourists in 2015.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Atatürk maintains such a high status in Turkey that it would be remiss not to briefly explain his role in the country’s history.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the Republic of Turkey out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.

He lead the country from 1923 until his death in 1938, and changed the social and political landscape of the region with incredible speed.

Atatürk believed that Turkey should be a secular country, and implemented reforms to keep Islam and the law of Turkey separate. He said:

We must liberate our concepts of justice, our laws and our legal institutions from the bonds which, even though they are incompatible with the needs of our century, still hold a tight grip on us.

Atatürk abolished the caliphate and the ministry of canon law and pious foundations; closed religious courts and schools; lifted the ban on alcohol; and made Sunday a day of rest instead of Friday.

Other reforms were to Westernise and modernise the country. Turkey under Atatürk adopted the Gregorian calendar; reformed existing universities and opened new ones; founded academic institutions; introduced surnames (his own was given to him, and him alone, and means ‘Father of the Turks’) – basically, it established Turkey’s place in the modern world.

Atatürk also achieved peace with long-time enemy Greece, a fact which ensures his popularity in Greece as well as Turkey!

Learn more here.

Critics of the AKP’s current regime point out that the government has undone much of what Atatürk set in place. Only today (22 February 2017), Turkey reversed the ban on female army officers’ wearing the hijab headscarf – the last Turkish institution to do so.

 

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