Path: Table of Countries --> Turkey
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 879-880
TURKEY: The Party System in 1950-1956 and 1957-19601
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

Turkey became a republic in 1923, ending hundreds of years of existence as a sultanate. Under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal (later called Ataturk), Turkish social, legal, and political life went through a series of modernizing reforms. One of the most important changes was the substitution of secular law for religious law along with a general secularization of society. Ataturk governed through the Republican People's Party (RPP), which continued to dominate Turkish politics after his death in 1938. Ismet Inonu, Ataturk's successor as president and leader of the RPP, committed Turkey to the west in postwar politics, and Turkey eventually joined the NATO alliance. In domestic politics, the RPP encouraged the development of opposition parties after World War II and was soon challenged by the Democratic Party, formed by former members of the RPP.

The rise of the Democratic Party was phenomenal. In the 1950 elections, the party won a majority of the votes and the overwhelming majority of the seats. Celal Bayar, one of the founders of the Democratic Party, became president and Adrian Menderes became premier and president of the party. The Democratic Party, on a program of political and economic liberalism, returned to power with more than 90 percent of the seats in the 1954 elections, almost driving out the previously dominant RPP.

The Democrats began to abandon their liberal program in both economics and politics, introducing central controls similar to those they attacked. The RPP recovered some of its electoral support in the 1957 elections, although the Democrats continued to hold a majority of the seats. By 1960, the Menderes government had curtailed political liberties, including freedoms of speech and press. In reaction, elements of the military moved against the government, arresting Mendeies and Bayar in May 1960. By September 1960, the Democratic Party was abolished. Our period ends with Turkey under a military government preparing for elections in 1961.

Continuity and Change since 1960

Turkey displays elements of both stability and change in the graph of its party representation over time, but change is the dominant theme. Only one of our original parties survived the military coup in 1960, and two new parties qualified for study.

Original Parties, Terminated

782 Democratic Party. The governing party in Turkey for a decade beginning in 1950, the Democratic Party was terminated in 1960 following a military coup which resulted in the imprisonment of President Bayar and the execution of Prime Minister Menderes.

Original Parties, Continuing

781 Republican People's Party. Created by Ataturk, the RPP was the dominant party until the election of 1950, which defeated the government of Imet Inonu. In the October 1961 election after the coup, the RPP returned to lead the government under Inonu, but in a coalition with other parties. The RPP was turned out of office decisively in 1965 and returned to power only briefly in 1974, when Bulent Ecevit headed a coalition government. Thereafter, despite its status as the largest party in the assembly, the party remained in opposition until 1978, when Ecevit formed a coalition government to replace one headed by the rival Justice Party.

New Parties, Continuing

783 Justice Party. The Justice Party was formed in 1961, drawing support from members of the Democratic Party, dissolved after the 1960 coup. Pressured by the military into a governing coalition led by the Republican People's Party in 1961, the Justice Party won an outright majority of seats in 1965 and formed a government under Suleyman Demirel. Public disorder led to the resignation of Demirel in 1971 and more than two years of "nonparty" government under martial law. Demirel headed a new governing coalition again from 1975 to 1977 but resigned at the end of the year after a vote of no confidence.

784 National Salvation Party. This party was originally formed in 1970 by Necmettin Erbakan as the National Order Party, which was banned in 1971 for using religion for political purposes. Erbakan soon formed the National Salvation Party with similar policies. It became the third largest party in the assembly after the 1973 election, and remained so after the 1977 election, but it was barely one-tenth the size of the two dominant parties.


Party politics in Turkey has been very different since the 1960 coup. Since 1961, Turkey has had only two major parties, although a handful of smaller parties have had fluctuating fortunes. A new Democratic Party (not to be confused with the banned party of Menderes) was formed in 1970, won 10 percent of the seats in 1973, but was reduced to only one seat in 1977 and thus failed to qualify for our study. The neo-fascist National Action Party, which gained sixteen seats in the 1977 election and participated in the coalition government afterward, has yet to demonstrate sustained success to qualify for inclusion. Such small parties have contributed to governmental changes in place of governmental stability experienced in the former two-party system with a dominant party. Most changes were due mainly to the failure of any party to obtain an absolute majority, which resulted in shaky coalition governments susceptible to toppling by dramatic political events. Unless the Justice and Republican People's parties can win majorities on their own or the minor parties can demonstrate greater durability, there is little reason to expect Turkish party politics to be more stable in the future.

[For party politics in Turkey since 1962, go to the essay by Irina A. Danilkina]

1. Our study of party politics in Turkey is based on a file of 863 pages from 85 documents, all of which are in English (see Table 1.3). The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by Dexter Lehtinen. Arthur Kallow used the file to code the Turkish parties on the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework. Frank Tachau and Ergun Ozbuduil kindly reviewed the codes and made many useful corrections and suggestions.