Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Politics as Usual: Ciller, Refah and Susurluk: Turkey's Troubled Democracy

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Politics as Usual: Ciller, Refah and Susurluk: Turkey's Troubled Democracy

Article excerpt

In September of 1995, then-Prime Minister Tansu Ciller of Turkey announced that she was ending her party's three-year coalition with the left-of-center Republican People's Party and was requesting President Suleyman Demirel to dissolve parliament and call new elections. The elections, it was promised, would provide Turks with a clear choice regarding the direction of the economy: on the center-right there were Ciller's True Path Party and the Motherland Party of Mesut Yilmaz, vowing to preserve and build upon the economic reforms first initiated by former Turkish Prime Minister and President Turgut Ozal, the founder of the Motherland Party. To the left were the Republican People's Party of Deniz Baykal and the Democratic Left Party of former Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, both vowing to suspend privatization and renegotiate Ciller's freshly-minted customs union agreement with the European Union. Standing apart from both the center-right and the center-left was the Refah (Welfare) Party of Necmettin Erbakan. Considered the party of Islam in Turkey, Refah and had advocated a unilateral Turkish withdrawal from NATO, the creation of a bloc of Muslim nations to counterbalance the G-7, and a greater voice for Islam in Turkish society.(1)

Throughout the election campaign, Ciller and Yilmaz, despite their proximity to one another on most economic issues, directed most of their rhetorical fire at one another rather than on the leftist parties. The irony of this situation was highlighted by the fact that the election had been called in the first place because a right-left coalition couldn't agree on privatization, while a True Path-Motherland coalition, which would have formed a majority, had been ruled out by the leaders of both parties as unworkable.

The disunity of the center-right and, to a lesser extent, the left, and the series of weak coalition governments it has produced has been identified by the leaders of all the major parties (except Refah, the main beneficiary of such division) as a serious obstacle to the smooth governance of the country. Briefly, the main reason behind the disunity of the left and right in Turkey is the non-democratic manner in which a party leader is elected. Although party leaders are subject to leadership reviews, the delegates voting in such reviews are generally hand-picked apparatchiks chosen principally for their loyalty to the leader. Thus, any ambitious politician wishing to lead a political party is forced to form a party of his own. Then, during the course of the elections and whenever coalitions are formed, the parties tend to see other parties of the same political persuasion as their main rival, rather than as an ideological ally. It was for this reason that the right/left True Path-Republican People's Party coalition had been formed in the first place. And it was because of this coalition that very little of substance was accomplished by the Turkish government during the years of its existence.


The December elections brought the following results: Refah won 21% of the popular vote and 157 seats in the 550-seat parliament. Motherland and True Path each won about 19.5% of the vote, with True Path winning 135 seats to Motherland's 133. The Democratic Left Party finished fourth with 14% and 76 seats while the Republican People's Party ended up with 50 seats and ten percent Of the vote. Parties receiving less than ten percent of the vote were not given representation in parliament and their votes were divided proportionally among the five parties seated.(2)

As leader of the largest party in parliament, Erbakan was given the first opportunity to form a government. Tansu Ciller, who throughout the campaign had characterized her party as the best guarantee against the "mediaeval" Refah, immediately rebuffed Erbakan's proposals to form a coalition. Eyes then turned to Yilmaz, whose party--despite its free-market, pro-western stance on most issues----contains a substantial "Islamic" wing willing to work with Refah. …

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