Politics of Turkey
This section of the readings examines the Turkish political system, which seeks to reconcile many choices in this complex society. Some of Turkey’s dilemmas include balancing economic liberalization with statism, security with democracy, and the Islamic faith with secularism. These alternatives make it challenging to answer whether the country is Middle Eastern or European, which this part of the chapter explains.
The Political Institutions of Turkey
In Turkey, elections are carried out every five years, based on proportional representation and majority vote. A party is required to receive 10% of the popular vote; otherwise, its votes will be divided among other parties that meet this threshold. Parliamentarians nominate the prime minister, who heads the dominant party in the General Assembly and appoint ministers. However, presidents make most of the fundamental decisions as they head the Government.
Members of the General Assembly elect the president for a 7-year term by a two-thirds popular vote. Presidents play a significant legislative role in signing the Assembly’s bills within 15 days before they can become law. The president, who also heads the state, ensures the appropriate implementation of the Constitution. Besides, if the parliament fails in its legal mandate, the president arbitrates through military intervention.
The Turkish Supreme Court is mandated to declare the laws passed by the National Assembly illegitimate. For example, in 2005, this court nullified a law by the Grand National Assembly legalizing the wearing of headscarves, which the president rejected thereafter. Thus, at times, the Assembly should consult with the Supreme Court regarding the constitutionalism of a bill. This landmark ruling indicates that the Turkish Constitutional Court is a bastion of secularism, which is why it is a critical government branch.
The key elites in the Turkish Government include the Chief Justice, the president, and the prime minister. These individuals have a significant role in making major decisions but are accountable to their political institutions. For this reason, an Islamic president can share authority with military powers, making the nation secular. Besides, cabinet ministers and the chief of staff have elite status because of their influence. Other elites include bureaucratic, business, religious, and opposition leaders.
Pressures and Interests: The Core of Civil Society
Civil pressures and interests profoundly influence Turkish politics, but the country is predominantly Islamic. Dervish groups and organizations flourish in their endeavors as mosques and religious schools do. Turkey’s Muslim domination started in the 1970s when citizens were encouraged into leftist and communist groups, most of which represented the Kemalist tradition. The Turkish government requires Islamic groups and institutions to register with the Religious Affairs Directorate for easy monitoring. Minority groups, such as Christians and the Kurds, are not recognized by the state, and the last time they were documented was during the 1965 census.
Regarding business and labor, the same array of businesses in many countries also exists in Turkey. Following the Turkish economic liberalization, workers now have the right to belong to unions provided they do not strike or participate in politics. However, the dominant parties have always courted these workers’ unions’ support for their increasing relevance. In 1950, the Turkish Labor Unions Confederation was formed, followed by the Revolutionary Trade Unions Confederation, which became controversial in the late 1970s and banned in 1980. The transition to privatization led to a decline in the influence and relevance of trade unions.
The most volatile group in society in most Middle Eastern countries is students. Whenever there is political injustice in the country, they are at the frontline to protest. For example, the 1960 military coup was a brainchild of students’ riots. However, with the government embracing a Kemalist approach, student activism was crippled. Similarly, women and social groups play a significant role in Turkish politics. The former is guaranteed full social and political rights but are less active, although affiliated to various political parties.
Turkey as a Democratic Civil Society
Political interest groups are allowed to prosper, and the press is free. Since 1997, elections have been open and fair, and the winners have taken office without any resistance. However, the country has a history of military intervention in many constitutional matters. Pro-Islamic parties have dominated Turkey but have not harmed the country’s democracy, although they seem to be favoring their religious affiliation. Thus, the context of Turkish politics is that politicians and elites continue to dominate, but much of their decisions are influenced by international, economic, and cultural factors.
Political Culture and Political Behavior
Cultural differences exist in Turkish politics, especially between Islam and Kemalism. Some traditions allow violence against women and discourage them from political participation. Regarding Turkish nationalism, a significant number of people adhere to secularism. However, Atatürk’s nationalistic vision was a modernized nation, but most citizens are inclined towards protecting their faith. This doctrine has two main problems; an economically limited government sector and its dependence due to tax evasion, low wages, and high incentives for business and innovation.
The Turkish Political Economy
Economics has a significant influence on the country’s politics, as it does across the world. When the economy is strong, leaders are hailed but condemned when it is weak. For example, the resurgence of Islamic sentiments and Turkey’s political system’s volatility have been blamed on many economic crises in the country. Religious parties have been more passionate than secular ones. The government has always bailed itself out of the financial strain by borrowing money from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but a predatory bureaucracy has caused increased unemployment and low productivity. Consequently, Turkey has resorted to international interdependence, causing the country substantial foreign pressure. For example, Turkey has always desired to join the European Union (EU) to solve its problems, but some factors hinder it, such as human rights issues.