Election Resources on the Internet:
Elections to the Turkish Grand National Assembly
by Manuel Álvarez-Rivera

A parliamentary election in Turkey was held on Sunday, June 12, 2011. An overview of the proportional representation system used to choose members of the country's unicameral legislature - the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) - is presented here.

Nationwide results (as well as constituency-level figures for 2002, 2007 and 2011) are available here for the following Grand National Assembly elections:

      June 12, 2011      
      July 22, 2007      
      November 3, 2002      
      April 18, 1999      
      December 24, 1995      
      October 20, 1991      
      November 29, 1987      
      November 6, 1983      

The election statistics presented in this space come from reports and data files issued by the Supreme Election Council and the Turkish Statistical Institute. Note the 2002 general election results presented here do not reflect the annulment of the election in the constituency of Siirt, where a by-election was subsequently held on March 9, 2003.


General Aspects of the Electoral System

The Parliament of the Republic of Turkey, the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA), is composed of 550 members directly elected by universal adult suffrage for a five-year term of office. Members of Parliament represent the entire nation, rather than the constituencies in which they were elected.

Each one of Turkey's eighty-one provinces is entitled to an initial National Assembly seat, and the remaining seats are allocated among the provinces in proportion to their populations. Provinces with nineteen to thirty-five seats are divided into two constituencies, while provinces with thirty-six or more seats are split into three constituencies.

Political parties present lists of candidates; these must be submitted in at least half the provinces. Joint lists are not allowed, but independent candidates may run for office. Electors cast a ballot for a single list or an independent candidate. Constituency seats are apportioned according to the largest average method of proportional representation (PR), conceived by the Belgian mathematician Victor D'Hondt in 1899. However, in order to participate in the distribution of TGNA seats, a political party must obtain at least ten percent of the nationwide vote.

The Political Parties

Competitive multi-party politics in modern Turkey began in 1946, when several former leaders of the Republican People's Party (CHP), among them Celâl Bayar and Adnan Menderes, established the Democrat Party (DP). Despite governmental pressures in the general election held that year, the Democrats emerged as a major challenger to the CHP, which had been in power since the proclamation of the republic in 1923 by Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish state. Save for two short-lived attempts to create opposition parties, the CHP had been Turkey's sole party for more than two decades, having been established by Atatürk to implement the Six Arrows (that is, fundamental principles) of his ideology, known as Kemalism: republicanism, nationalism, populism, statism (state-controlled economic development), secularism, and revolution.

In 1950, the Democrats won a decisive victory over the CHP in Turkey's first truly free general election, bringing twenty-seven years of Republican rule to an end; Bayar and Menderes became president and prime minister of Turkey, respectively. However, following an even larger DP landslide victory in 1954, Menderes' government became increasingly authoritarian. Although the Democrats went on to score a third consecutive victory in 1957, support for the party declined noticeably: while remaining the largest single party, the DP polled fewer votes than the combined opposition parties together - which had been prevented by law from establishing an electoral alliance.

Menderes proclaimed martial law in 1960, but shortly thereafter the military took power in a nearly bloodless coup; Menderes, Bayar and numerous Democrat Party leaders were arrested. The DP was subsequently dissolved, and six hundred former party leaders and government officials were put on trial; most were found guilty, and fifteen were condemned to death. Menderes and two former cabinet ministers were executed the following year, while Bayar and twelve others had their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment; by 1964 all the prisoners from the Democrat Party trials (including former President Bayar) had been released. Meanwhile, civilian rule was restored in 1961, after voters approved a new constitution in a referendum and legislative elections were held for the bicameral legislature established under the constitution. In the elections, the Republican People's Party emerged as the largest party (albeit well short of an absolute majority), while the newly-formed Justice Party (AP) - for all practical intents and purposes the successor of the DP - came in a close second place; like the DP, the Justice Party proclaimed its loyalty to the principles of Kemalism, but at the same time favored economic policies that encouraged private enterprise. The CHP presided over several cabinets until 1965, when the Justice Party won an absolute majority in the Grand National Assembly, and party leader Süleyman Demirel formed a single-party AP government. Although Demirel and AP were returned to office in 1969 with a larger parliamentary majority, his government failed to deal effectively with a deteriorating economic situation and the sudden escalation of political violence from both radical left-wing groups and the ultra-nationalist Gray Wolves - the paramilitary arm of Alparslan Türkes' far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP). By 1971 a number of defections had left the Justice Party short of a legislative majority, and the senior military commanders presented a memorandum to the president demanding the installation of a "strong and credible government," which led to the immediate resignation of Demirel.

After the so-called "coup by memorandum" of 1971, Turkey was ruled by "national unity, above-party" caretaker administrations until the 1973 general election, in which the Republican People's Party - running as a social democratic party under the leadership of Bülent Ecevit - emerged as the largest party, but the various right-wing parties held an overall parliamentary majority. Ecevit eventually formed a coalition cabinet with the National Salvation Party (MSP) - an Islamist party led by Necmettin Erbakan, which called for the restoration of Islamic law - but the government collapsed after less than a year in power. A short-lived caretaker government held office until 1975, when Demirel formed a minority right-wing AP-MSP-MHP coalition government - the National Front - that managed to hold on to power for just over two years, until the 1977 general election. Both CHP (which continued as the largest single party) and AP made substantial gains in the election at the expense of the smaller parties, but the Republican People's Party remained short of an absolute majority. Ecevit and Demirel spent the next three years alternating in power in a succession of short-lived governments; attempts to have them form a grand coalition government of the two major parties proved fruitless.

The inability of successive cabinets to deal with mounting economic and political violence problems precipitated the intervention of the armed forces, who seized control in a bloodless coup carried out in September 1980, and established a National Security Council (NSC) presided by General Kenan Evren, the leader of the coup. Parliament was closed down, the constitution was suspended, the leading political figures were arrested, and political parties and trade unions were dissolved. Public order was restored, but civil liberties were severely curtailed. Meanwhile, the economy was stabilized under a program of reforms implemented by deputy prime minister Turgut Özal, a former adviser of Demirel who had been retained by the military government.

Turkish voters approved a new constitution in a November 1982 referendum. It provided for a strong presidency while retaining the parliamentary form of government, and replaced the bicameral legislature introduced in 1961 with a unicameral Grand National Assembly; General Evren became the first president of the Third Turkish Republic. Under the terms of a new electoral law that restricted parliamentary representation to parties polling at least ten percent of the vote, and a law on political parties which required NSC approval of new parties (while simultaneously banning all parties and politicians active before September 1980), three parties contested the November 1983 parliamentary election: the center-right Nationalist Democracy Party (MDP); the center-left Populist Party (HP); and the Motherland Party (ANAP), established by former deputy prime minister Özal, who had been forced out of office in 1982. The military openly favored the MDP, but ANAP - which brought together diverse liberal, nationalist, social democratic and Islamic groups and was widely perceived as being the more distant party from the military - went on to score a stunning victory in the election, securing an absolute majority of 211 out of 400 seats in the Grand National Assembly, while MDP finished a distant third, well behind both HP and ANAP. After the election, President Evren appointed Özal as prime minister.

Under the right-of-center Motherland Party government of Turgut Özal, the restrictions imposed by the military were gradually eased. The Social Democratic Party (Sodep) and the True Path Party (DYP), which had been disqualified from participating in the 1983 general election, were allowed to take part in municipal elections held in 1984, as was the Islamic-oriented Welfare Party (RP). Both Sodep and DYP received significant support in the municipal vote, emerging as the second and third largest parties (ANAP topped the poll), but the Populist Party and the Nationalist Democracy Party fared badly. As a result, the Populists merged with the Social Democrats in 1985 to create the Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP), while MDP disbanded in 1986. In a 1987 referendum, Turkish voters narrowly approved a constitutional amendment which restored the political rights of the banned politicians; consequently, Süleyman Demirel and Bülent Ecevit became the leaders of their respective parties, the True Path Party and the Democratic Left Party (DSP), which they had controlled up to that point by means of proxies (the ban covering the old parties would be subsequently repealed in 1992).

In the November 1987 general election, the Motherland Party was returned to power with an enlarged majority in the expanded 450-seat Grand National Assembly, while SHP and DYP came in second and third place, respectively. Although DSP and Necmettin Erbakan's RP won a significant number of votes, both failed to reach the ten percent threshold and won no parliamentary seats. Prime Minister Özal continued as head of government until 1989, when he was elected by the Grand National Assembly to succeed General Evren as president of Turkey. Özal then appointed Yildirim Akbulut as prime minister.

In June 1991, Mesut Yilmaz displaced Akbulut as both prime minister and leader of the Motherland Party, but in the general election held the following October, Süleyman Demirel staged a political comeback when his True Path Party outpolled ANAP; SHP slipped to third place, while the Welfare Party more than doubled its share of the vote, and secured parliamentary representation, as did the Democratic Left Party. However, no single party won an overall majority. Although DYP and ANAP had few ideological differences - both were right-of-center parties - the intense personal rivalry between Demirel and Özal precluded any agreement between the two parties. Consequently, Demirel formed a coalition government with the left-of-center SHP and once more became prime minister, eleven years after having been overthrown by the military.

Demirel remained as head of government until 1993, when President Özal died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of 65, and Demirel was chosen to succeed him. In turn, Tansu Çiller succeeded Demirel as DYP leader and prime minister, becoming Turkey's first (and to date only) female head of government. Çiller's DYP remained in coalition with SHP, which in 1995 merged with the re-constituted Republican People's Party (CHP) under the latter's name. However, the DYP-CHP coalition government collapsed in October of that year, and Çiller's attempt to establish a minority DYP government proved unsuccessful. Although DYP and CHP reached a new coalition agreement shortly afterwards, an early election was held in December 1995 under an amended electoral law that lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, and increased the size of the Grand National Assembly from 450 to 550.

In the election, the DYP-CHP coalition lost its majority, and the Islamist RP emerged as the largest single party; no single party (and no coalition of any two other parties) held an absolute majority. Çiller remained in power as head of an interim administration until the following year, when DYP reached an agreement with ANAP - its traditional adversary - under which the two parties were to form a coalition government, initially headed by ANAP leader Mesut Yilmaz, and beginning in 1997 by Çiller. The ANAP-DYP government then won a March 1996 parliamentary vote of confidence by a simple majority, but the agreement didn't last long, and when Turkey's Constitutional Court ruled that the Grand National Assembly endorsement of the government by a simple majority was invalid, Çiller brought down Yilmaz' government in a subsequent confidence motion. Çiller and DYP then did an about-face and formed an alliance with RP that made Necmettin Erbakan the Republic of Turkey's first-ever Islamist prime minister; Çiller became his deputy. In July 1996, the new RP-DYP coalition government won a Grand National Assembly vote of confidence by a narrow absolute majority.

Erbakan's desire to distance Turkey from the West and develop closer ties with Middle Eastern countries such as Syria and Iran, combined with his party's call for a return to traditional values - taken by many as code words for Islamic morals and behavior - put him on a collision course with Turkey's staunchly secular establishment. The armed forces - which regard themselves as guardians of the constitution and Kemalism - went on to apply mounting pressure on Erbakan, and ultimately forced him to step down in June 1997 after only one year in power. For good measure, in early 1998 the Constitutional Court ordered the dissolution of the Welfare Party, while Erbakan and half-dozen of his followers were banned from politics for five years. Meanwhile, following Erbakan's fall in the so-called "postmodern coup," Mesut Yilmaz formed a minority ANAP-DSP coalition government that also included DYP dissidents, and subsequently secured CHP support as well.

Yilmaz's government came apart in November 1998, and in January 1999 President Demirel appointed DSP leader (and old rival) Bülent Ecevit as prime minister. In an early parliamentary election held the following April, DSP and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) - led by Devlet Bahçeli after Alparslan Türkes passed away in 1997 - emerged as the two largest parties; despite the wide ideological differences between the social democratic-oriented DSP and the ultra-rightist MHP, both parties shared a common nationalist outlook and formed a coalition government with ANAP. Meanwhile, CHP fell below the ten percent threshold and lost its parliamentary representation, but the Virtue Party (FP) - successor of the dissolved RP - came in a strong third place; however, in 2001 the Constitutional Court banned it as well. Two new Islamist parties emerged to replace the FP: the Felicity Party (SP) and the more moderate Justice and Development Party (AKP), led by former Istanbul mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

After three years in office, Bülent Ecevit's DSP-MHP-ANAP coalition cabinet collapsed in July 2002, precipitating an early general election held in November of that year. AKP won a landslide victory in the election, while CHP staged a major comeback, becoming the second largest party and the sole opposition party: DSP, MHP and ANAP lost all their seats in the Grand National Assembly, as did DYP, which slipped below the ten percent threshold by a narrow margin. Erdogan had been disqualified from running for office (and therefore from becoming prime minister) based on a 1998 conviction for inciting "animosity between citizens on the grounds of religion," and in his place Abdullah Gül formed an AKP government - Turkey's first single-party majority government in eleven years. A December 2002 constitutional amendment removed Erdogan's disqualification, and in March 2003 he won a by-election in the constituency of Siirt. Shortly after his victory, Erdogan was appointed prime minister.

In April 2007 the Erdogan government sought to elect Abdullah Gül as president. However, Turkey's secular establishment perceived Gül as having a hidden Islamist agenda that sought to undermine the strict separation of religion and state, and vehemently opposed his nomination. Although the Grand National Assembly - which at the time chose Turkey's president - went on to elect Gül as head of state, the vote was subsequently annulled by the Constitutional Court on the grounds that Gül had failed to obtain a majority of two-thirds of the Grand National Assembly's members. In response to the court ruling - which triggered a major political crisis - the Grand National Assembly passed constitutional amendments that provided for the election of the president by popular vote every five years and reduced the TGNA's term of office to four years; these were subsequently approved by voters in a referendum held the following October.

Meanwhile, in a general election held in July 2007 - three months ahead of schedule - Prime Minister Erdogan's Justice and Development Party was returned to office with a reduced (yet sizable) parliamentary majority. While scoring substantial gains in the election, AKP lost seats in the Grand National Assembly (as did CHP, which slightly increased its share of the vote) mainly because the Nationalist Action Party practically doubled its vote total and once again qualified for parliamentary representation.

One month after AKP's convincing election victory, the Grand National Assembly elected Abdullah Gül to the presidency. However, in March 2008 Turkey's chief prosecutor asked the Constitutional Court to ban the Justice and Development Party for "anti-secular activities," following parliamentary approval of a constitutional amendment allowing women to wear headscarves at universities. Although the Constitutional Court ruled the following June that the scarf reform violated the constitution's secular principles, in July the Court narrowly voted against disbanding AKP; nonetheless, it cut by half the ruling party's public funding.

Although twenty independent candidates affiliated with the Kurdish nationalist Democratic Society Party (DTP) were elected to the Grand National Assembly in the 2007 general election, in December 2009 the Constitutional Court voted to ban DTP because of alleged ties with the Kurdish separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

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Copyright © 2007-2011 Manuel Álvarez-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.
Last update: June 25, 2011.