In August 2014, the first direct presidential elections took place in Turkey. With 51,8 percent of the votes the then Prime Minister Erdoğan won and became the current President of Turkey. On 1 November 2015, the ruling AKP won the snap parliamentary elections in a landslide victory, establishing a majority in parliament and a single-party rule. Since then, Erdogan has held onto the presidency, and the AKP has almost continually been the largest party in parliament. The failed coup d’état on the 15th of July 2016 by a part of the Turkish military left at least 290 dead and 1.400 wounded. In response, the Turkish government launched a massive backlash operation seriously undermining its human rights commitments as well as the perspective of joining the EU.
On 16 April 2017, a referendum was held with regards to replacing the parliamentary system by a presidential system. 51.4 percent of the citizens voted for and 48.6 percent voted against the constitutional changes. The changes enable the president to appoint and fire ministers and top state officials, control the budget, issue decrees, and declare emergency rule. Parliamentary elections are now held every five years, instead of four, at the same time as the presidential elections. Furthermore, the office of prime minister disappeared and parliament lost its right of interpellation. Since then, opposition parties have faced increased pressure, human rights and civil liberties are put under pressure, and critics fear Turkey will become an authoritarian state under Erdogan’s one-man rule. All the signs are already pointing that way: the judiciary is politicized, media outlets are increasingly maintained by pro-Erdogan individuals and groups, and the elections planned for 2019 were held early in 2018, a move that critics view as a political strategy of survival, to keep absolute power secure. Though the elections are still decisive, and they are generally reasonably fair, critics have no doubt that Erdogan will do everything in his power to stay in charge, leaving Turkey a de facto autocracy. Onderkant formulier
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- 84,339,067 (World Bank 2020 est.)
- Governmental Type:
- Republican parliamentary democracy
- Ruling Coalition:
- One ruling party - AKP
- Last Elections:
- 24 June 2018 (General)
- Next Elections:
- 2023 (General)
- Sister Parties:
- Republican People's Party (CHP), Peace and Democracy Party (BDP)
Straddling the continents of Europe and Asia, Turkey's strategically important location has given it major influence in the region - and control over the entrance to the Black Sea. Turkey's progress towards democracy and a market economy was halted in the decades following the death of President Ataturk in 1938. The army saw itself as the guarantor of the constitution and ousted governments on a number of occasions when it thought they were challenging secular values.
Concerns over the potential for conflict between a secular establishment backed by the military and a traditional society deeply rooted in Islam resurfaced with the landslide election victory of the Islamist-based Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002. The secularist opposition has, on several occasions since then, challenged the constitutional right of the AKP to be part of the government. In March 2008 the Constitutional Court narrowly rejected a petition by the chief prosecutor to ban the AKP and 71 of its officials, including the then President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for allegedly seeking to establish an Islamic state. Since then, the AKP has gained control over the government, and is now the largest party in Turkey with President Erdogan at the front. Together with the MHP, their allied far-right party, it enjoys a parliamentary majority and can therefore consolidate authoritarian rule, passing rushed legislation, and sidelining opposition parties. The government has reshaped public and state institutions and is effectively removing checks and balances of power. Nevertheless, the opposition parties, though they are strictly opposed by Erdogan, maintain a limited amount of power, particularly in Istanbul and Ankara.
Relations with the EU
Turkey has been closely associated with the European community since the start of the European project. The Ankara agreement of 1959 stated that the ultimate goal was Turkish accession into the community. The country became an EU candidate in 1999. Several substantial reforms were introduced such as the abolishment of the death penalty which contributed to opening the EU accession talks in October 2005. Major hurdles remained, however: issues around Cyprus, the implementation of reforms and a lack of commitment regarding the Kurdish issue and human rights. The negotiations stalled, and between 2005 and 2016 only 16 of the 35 negotiations chapters were opened, while only one was closed.
The migration crisis in 2016 made cooperation between Turkey and the EU harder but unavoidable. In March 2016 Turkey and the EU signed an agreement, according to which Greece could return all new irregular migrants to Turkey. The EU-Turkey deal has been widely criticised for violating EU’s human rights commitments and contradicting its policy of high asylum standards for its neighbouring countries. Turkey used the agreement to bargain over the visa liberalisation process and opening of new accession chapters.
The accession process came to a complete standstill in the aftermath of the 2016 failed coup attempt. The EU-top, including High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Johannes Hahn, condemned repressive measures taken by the Turkish government. Dozens of media outlets have been closed down and thousands of civil servants, journalist and academics put behind bars without a fair trial. In November 2016 the European Parliament voted to freeze long-term plans for Turkey to join the EU. In March 2017 the Turkish President Erdogan lashed out at EU member states Germany and the Netherlands over decisions to cancel Turkish campaigns rallies addressing the April referendum in their territory. In the annual enlargement report of 2018, the European Commission was highly critical of the Turkish perspective. Johannes Hahn stated that Turkey was taking “huge strides away” from the Union.
Political rights and civil liberties
In the Turkey of today, political rights and civil liberties are limited, and it has the status of ‘not free’ according to the NGO Freedom House. The media landscape is limited to a few companies, most close to the Erdogan presidency, sometimes as a necessity, to avoid further limitations by the president. Critical online news providers do still exist, but they are being actively targeted. Dozens of media workers and journalists are held in pretrial detention or are serving sentences for terrorism offenses. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government attempted to manipulate the statistics, and critics, independent medical personnel, and even civilians sharing independent information related to the pandemic were arrested.
Though there remains a certain element of political pluralism, it is being increasingly limited. The government has cracked down on opposition parties and seriously harmed political rights and electoral opportunities for minority groups, most notably Kurds. Since the summer of 2021, the Kurdish party HDP is faced with a closure case, and the question remains whether the party will continue to exist. It has been accused of “terrorism” through ties with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), though the HDP denies this.
The judiciary in Turkey is also being limited in its independence. In July 2021, Parliament passed a law changing the structure of bar associations, weakening the associations’ authority and independence. Though this move was met with protest by 78 out of 80 bar associations, it was enforced, limiting the independence of the judiciary.
Human rights and gender equality
The past four years have seen a deepening human rights crisis with an erosion of Turkeys rule of law and democracy framework. Regarding gender equality, Turkey had long been ahead of its time, giving women the right to vote in the early twentieth century. However, women are still exposed to large amounts of violence and human rights violations, with domestic violence instances increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2021, President Erdogan withdrew from the 2014 Istanbul Convention on violence against women. This was met with large-scale protests by women in the streets of multiple cities, and the United Nations Human Rights Commission urged Erdogan to reconsider the withdrawal, but this has not happened.
Not only women are at risk, but the LGBT+ community has also long had to face discrimination and violence, exacerbated by homophobic rhetoric from politicians. This has strengthened both discriminatory practices and violence against members of the LGBT+ community. Other minority groups such as Kurds also suffer discrimination, with Kurdish and pro-Kurdish civil society organizations and political parties continuing to suffer problems in exercising their rights.
Kurds are the largest ethnic minority of Turkey. Since the dawn of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the relationship between the government and the Kurds has been tense. During several rebellions in the early twentieth century, the conflict deepened. Restrictions were placed on Kurdish nationalism, leading to economic disadvantages and human rights violations. The PKK, the best known and most radical of the Kurdish movements, launched a guerrilla campaign in 1984 for a homeland in the Kurdish heartland in the southeast. Thousands died and hundreds of thousands became refugees in the ensuing conflict with the PKK, which Turkey, the US and the European Union deem a terrorist organisation. In the early 21st century several attempts were undertaken to end the hostilities. Multiple times, peace talks were shattered by renewed violence. Especially the conflict in Syria became troubling.
The Kurdish coalition in Syria became increasingly a target of Ankara. In 2018 Turkey launched a full military invasion against the Kurds in Syria. Erdoğan defended the move by claiming that it was intended to expel the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) - viewed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, due to the PKK being part of the SDF - from the border and create a 30 km-deep safe zone. This safe zone would house around 3.5 million Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey. Soon after the invasion started, the underpowered Kurdish militias made a deal with the Syrian government, allowing the Syrian army to move into the area of the Kurds – an area over which they lost control over a few years ago. This opened up the way for Turkey and the SDF to agree to a ceasefire. On 22 October 2019 a deal was made, which entailed the use of joint Russian-Turkish patrols to ensure the 30 km-deep safe zones. The invasion can be seen as a Turkish victory, since they regained more control over their border and could now start housing the millions of refugees in the safe zone.
The People’s Democratic Party (HDP) is a legal Kurdish political party. This party, too, has faced increasing difficulties as Erdogan is extending his hate towards the Kurds. In the summer of 2021, an indictment was leveled against the HDP, calling for a closure of the party and the banning of hundreds of individuals associated with it. Critics see the closure case as a political move to clamp down on opposition, particularly as the government has been increasingly vocal on their distrust of the HDP.
On 15 July 2016, forces loyal to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan quashed a coup attempt by members of the military that began in the evening and devolved into turmoil and violence. At least 290 died and over 1.400 were wounded. Hours after the attempted coup against him began, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressed the nation via FaceTime on CNN Türk. He urged people to take to the streets and stand up to the military faction behind the uprising. Late at night, the Turkish National Intelligence unit said the coup is over and Erdogan declared it was treason. He blamed the coup attempt on rival Fethullah Gulen (leader of Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation (FETÖ), a cleric and former ally who lives in exile in the US. Erdogan repeatedly demanded the US to arrest or extradite Gulen. More than 40.000 people have been detained and nearly 20.000 have been arrested in response to the failed July 15 coup attempt, 79.900 civil servants were suspended and 5.014 were dismissed 4.262 institutions.
After the coup, on April 16 2016, under emergency law, the government held a referendum on replacing the current parliamentary system by a presidential system. The ‘yes’-vote won with 51.4%. Turnout was reportedly 85 per cent. In the three biggest cities - Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir - and in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast the majority voted 'no'. However, in many regions in the Anatolian heartland the 'yes' vote won.
The constitutional changes enable the president to appoint and fire ministers and top state officials, control the budget, issue decrees, and declare emergency rule. Parliamentary elections are now held every five years, instead of four, together with the presidential elections. Furthermore, the office of prime minister disappeared and parliament lost its right of interpellation.
According to the Turkish government, the presidential system brings strong leadership and frees the country of unstable coalition governments. Critics, however, claim that by allowing the president to retain ties to his political party the separation of powers is jeopardised and checks and balances have become limited or disappeared. Commonly, in presidential systems, the president and leader of a political party are two different individuals to avoid overlap between the legislative and executive branches. In the Turkish system, however, the president is both leader of a political party and president. In addition, critics are concerned that Erdogan is trying to establish a one-man rule.
Rifts within AK party
On 12 December 2019, Ahmet Davutoglu, prime minister of Turkey from 2014 to 2016, registered a new political party called “the Future Party” at the interior ministry. Davutoglu has criticised Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the past, accusing them of economic mismanagement and limiting basic liberties and free speech. The former prime minister was a close ally of Erdogan but fell out of favour over multiple issues. Disagreements about the proposed changes in the constitution, increasing the power of the president, caused Erdogan to remove Davutoglu from office. Davutoglu remained quiet for a while but in anticipation of establishing a new party, he resigned from the AKP in September 2019, arguing that it could no longer provide solutions for the problems at hand and was preventing internal debate about the party policy. Davutoglu was not the only former Erdogan ally to break ranks. Former economy minister Ali Babacan also set up a new party, the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA).
Allegedly due to these rifts, the COVID-19 pandemic and the failing economy, President Erdogan’s popularity has been falling recently. Polls from March 2021 show combined support for the AKP and the MHP falling below 45%. In order to ensure the MHP remains in parliament regardless of the failing popularity, the threshold for entering parliament was lowered from 10% of votes, to 7%. Through this, Erdogan could ensure that MHP remains in parliament to strengthen the voice of the AKP. Nevertheless, popularity of the parties is falling, and the question remains what this will mean for the future.
In June 2018, early parliamentary elections were held, enforcing the constitutional changes from the 2016 referendum. Thereby, these elections marked the transition from a parliamentary system to a presidential system of government.
In the run-up to the elections, Turkey’s opposition formed an alliance not to win the elections as a coalition, but to challenge Erdoğan’s ability to rule without needing the authority of the parliament. Nonetheless, supporters of the AKP’s main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), were disappointed in the results, as the CHP managed to secure a mere 22.6% of votes. A new opposition party, the Good Party (IYI), achieved 9.96% of the votes, giving it 43 seats, while the HDP Kurdish opposition party achieved 67 seats. The Felicity Party, also an opposition party, got 1.34% of the votes, not enough to earn a place in parliament. The AKP, together with its allied party MHP, won 344 seats, giving them a majority in parliament. Through this, the AKP and MHP, together the People’s Alliance, can completely sideline opposition.
The campaign format has been accused of being biased towards the AKP, and political analysts have described Turkey’s electoral system as one of façade and authoritarianism. The opposition suffered from a lack of public attention. Kurdish HDP candidate Selahattin Demirtaş was imprisoned at the time of the elections and throughout the course of the campaign, on charges of terrorism for allegedly supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Demirtaş was thus denied to hold speeches and rally properly, and he later accused the media of acting as if he was not running for the elections at all. Apart from the HDP, which in the end managed to secure 11.7% of the votes and thus pass the 10% threshold to get into parliament, small oppositional parties received little attention. Additionally, the ongoing state of emergency since the coup seriously impacted other oppositional party’s options for campaigning, and barred certain groups from entering polling places.
% of votes
Seats in parliament
Justice and Development Party (AKP)
Republican People's Party (CHP)
People's Democratic Party (HDP)
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)
Good Party (IYI)
In June 2018, the presidential elections were held along with the parliamentary elections. These elections were the second presidential elections held in Turkey. Several candidates ran for president: Erdogan (Justice and Development Party, AKP), Muharrem Ince (Republican People’s Party, CHP), Selahattin Demirtaş (People’s Democracy Party, HDP), Temel Karamollaoglu (Felicity Party), Dogu Perincek (The Patriotic Party), and Meral AKsener (The Good Party, IYI). Erdogan came out as the winner with 52.59% of the votes, followed by Muharrem Ince with 30.64% and Selahattin Demirtas with 8.40%. Turnout for these elections was 82.57%.
Critics say that both the elections and the campaigns leading up to them were marred by an uneven playing field. The incumbent party received excessive coverage in the national media, and had extended access to public and private resources. There were no large-scale allegations of fraud, but they were held in what Amnesty described as a “climate of fear” due to the uneven playing field and unfair and unfree media landscape.
Official election results:
|Recep Tayyip Erdoğan||Justice and Development Party (AKP)||52.59%|
|Muharrem Ince||Republican People’s Party (CHP)||30.64%|
|Selahattin Demirtaş||Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)||8.40%|
|Meral Aksener||Good Party (IYI)||7.29%|
|Temel Karamollaglu||Felicity Party (SP)||0.89%|
|Dogu Perincek||Patriotic Party (VP)||0.20%|
(Social) Democratic Parties
- Wikipedia: Turkey
- Wikipedia: Politics of Turkey
- CIA World Factbook: Turkey
- EurActiv.com: Turkey
- EurActiv.com: EU-Turkey relations
- Turkish Daiy News
- IFES Election Calendar
- TheEconomist.comHuman Rights Watch: country report on Turkey
- Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict: the Turkey's Kurdish QuestionMy Country and NATO: Turkey
- Geoinvestor.com: Turkey's Economy
- Guardian on Turkey