the political environment

Turkey is a Parliamentary Republic and an electoral democracy, that has been one of the first countries to introduce the universal suffrage for both sexes in 1933. The national legislative body is the Grand National Assembly (Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi TBMM) composed of 550 seats with a four-year mandate. A party must gain at least 10 percent of the nationwide vote to obtain representation in the parliament and can be shut down if its program contrasts with the constitution. The president (Cumhurbaşkanı), chosen through direct presidential elections for a once-reneweable five-year term, appoints the prime minister (Başbakan) among the members of parliament. The prime minister is the head government, while the president’s powers comprise a legislative veto and the authority to appoint judges and prosecutors.

The last elections, that took place in July 2007, were judged to have been free and fair, with more open debate opportunities on traditionally sensitive issues.

The republic of Turkey states that all citizens are treated equally, but the recognized minorities are limited to the three defined by religion. Other minorities and Kurds in particular have been facing many limitations related to language, culture, and freedom of expression.

Turkey was born as a republic after the break-up of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. It was founded by Mustafa Kemal, dubbed Ataturk (Father of the Turks), who also outlined the state guiding principles, such as its secular nature. He set up several measures with the aim to modernize the country, as the pursuit of Western learning, the use of the Roman alphabet instead of Arabic script for writing Turkish, and the abolition of the Muslim caliphate.

After Ataturk’s death in 1938, Turkey remained neutral for most of World War II, joining the Allies only in February 1945. In the post-war period the president Ismet Inönü opened to the multiparty system and in 1952 the republic joined NATO. Nevertheless politics of the country has been unstable and the military has always considered itself as a guardian of the republic principles and a bulwark against separatism, forcing out civilian governments on four occasions since 1960.

Furthermore since the 1990s the role of Islam in public life has been a key issue in the politics of the country.

The last presidential elections were organized for April 2007, but the opposition Republican’s People Party (CHP) strongly opposed the Justice and Development Party (AKP)1 candidate Abdullah Gul's presidential candidacy, because of his supposed background in political Islam. Despite objections, the prime minister Erdogan chose Gul and as consequence the CHP refused to attend the voting. The president election failure determined early parliamentary elections on 22 July 2007. The governing AKP were re-elected by popular vote, gaining a solid majority of seats and following the parliamentary elections Abdullah Gul was elected President by the new parliament.

Major parties, according to official results, are as follows:

  • Justice and Development Party (AKP): 46.5% (341 seats)
  • Republican People's Party (CHP): 20.9% (112 seats)
  • Nationalist Action Party (MHP): 14.3% (70 seats)
  • Independent Candidates: 5.3% (26 seats)

 

In February 2008, the government introduced constitutional changes with the aim to remove the ban on women’s right to wear the headscarf in universities, outlawing at the same time more extreme forms of Islamic dress.

The right of women to wear the headscarf is directly related to the current division between secularists and Islamists in Turkey and represents one of the most controversial issues in Turkish politics.

The opposition CHP stated these changes represented a threaten to the principle of the state secular nature and addressed the question to the Constitutional Court. The Court upheld this challenge, confirming a de facto ban on the wearing of head scarves in the civil service and universities.

In 2008 a still ongoing investigation focused on an alleged secretive ultranationalist group called Ergenekon blew up as consequence of tensions between the AKP government and radical secularist officials.

Ergenekon was blamed for the 2006 bombing of a secularist newspaper and a court shooting that killed a judge the same year; its alleged goal was to raise the spectre of Islamist violence so as to provoke a political intervention by the military. Critics argued that the government was using the far-reaching case to punish its opponents2.

In 2009 the government made positive overtures to the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), a separatist group that has fought a decades-long guerrilla war against government forces in the southeast. The moves raised hopes of a permanent ceasefire and an earlier halt in fighting had lasted from 1999 to 2004. However, the state’s relations with the Kurdish minority suffered a serious blow in December, when the Constitutional Court banned the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) on the base that it had become “a focal point for terrorism”3.

International relations

Turkey is a founding member of the United Nations ONU (1945), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development OECD (1961), the Organization of the Islamic Conference OIC (1969), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe OSCE (1973), the Black Sea Economic Cooperation BSEC (1992) and the G-20 major economies (1999).

Being Turkish foreign policy traditionally oriented to West, relations with Europe have always been a Key factor in the international relations of the country. In fact Turkey was a founding member of the Council of Europe in 1949 and officially began accession negotiations with the European Union in 20054.

Prime Minister Erdogan has overseen a series of reforms linked to Turkish’s bid to the European Union, but there still are many difficulties hindering the accession process, in particular related to human rights violations, still unrecognized Armenian genocide, Kurdish issue and Turkey-Cyprus relations. In fact Turkey has not recognized the (essentially Greek Cypriot) Republic of Cyprus as the one legitimate authority on the island, supporting instead for the Turkish Cypriot community and de facto Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is not recognized internationally.

Moreover Turkey's foreign relations has also close ties with the United States: the country joined NATO in 1952, ensuring close relations throughout the Cold War, while in the following years its geostrategic importance was represented by its proximity to the Middle East, the Caucasus and the Balkans. On the other hand USA supported politically, economically and diplomatically Turkey, in particular when key issues- such as the country access process to the European Union -were involved.

Furthermore the country extended and strengthened its economic and political relations into Central Asia after the independence of the Soviet Union Turkic states in 1991, defined by the same cultural and linguistic background as Turkey.

Worth to mention is also the foreign policy strategy of the country in the energetic sector: Turkey aims at becoming an energy conduit to the West and the completion of a multi-billion-dollar oil and natural gas pipeline from Baku in Azerbaijan to the port of Ceyhan in Turkey, is part of this plan.

Links of interest

 


1. Centre-right party with Islamist roots, holding power since 2002.

2. 2010, Freedom House (Freedom in the world- Turkey).

3. 2010, Freedom House (Freedom in the world- Turkey).

4. Turkey have been an associate member of the European Economic Community since 1963 and applied for full membership in 1987. It has been a candidate country since 1999 and have reached a Custom Union Agreement in 1995.