Last update: 1 year ago

In August 2014, the first direct presidential elections took place in Turkey. With a 51,8 per cent 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. 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 current parliamentary system by a presidential system, with 51.4 per cent of the citizens voting for and 48.6 per cent voting against the constitutional changes. The constitutional changes enabled the president to appoint and fire ministers and top state officials, control the budget, issue decrees, and declare emergency rule. Parliamentary elections will be held every five years, instead of four, and at the same time as the presidential elections. Furthermore, the office of prime minister will disappear and parliament will lose its right of interpellation. The reforms are expected to be fully implemented in 2018, coinciding with the June 2018 elections. If Erdoğan wins two presidential elections in a row, he could stay in power until 2029. With these changes, further steps have now been set towards a one-man rule autocracy.

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Map of Turkey

Short facts

78,665,830 (World Bank 2015 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)
Image of Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Recep Tayyip Erdogan


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Image of Binali Yildirim

Binali Yildirim

Prime Minister

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Political Situation

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.

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 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 lashed at out 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.

Kurdish issue

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 Kurdistan Workers Party (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. Allegedly because it was a safe haven for the PKK. 

Protests, unrests and authoritarianism (2013-present)

A wave of demonstrations and civil unrest in Turkey began on 28 May 2013, which started when citizens contested the urban development plan for Istanbul's Taksim Gezi Park. The protests were sparked by outrage at the violent eviction of a sit-in at the park protesting the plan. Subsequently, supporting protests and strikes took place across Turkey protesting a wide range of concerns, at the core of which were issues of freedom of the press, of expression, assembly, and the government's encroachment on Turkey's secularism. Nonetheless, the protests resulted in more repressive government control. Concerns over Ankara’s increasing authoritarian stance grew over time. In January 2016 the Turkish Parliament voted in favour of a constitutional reform bill, which includes changing the current parliamentary system to a presidential one. 

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 Pennsylvania, US. Erdogan repeatedly demanded from 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, under emergency law, the government could easily go ahead with changing the constitution. A referendum was called on whether to implement these changes for 2017. The reforms will enable the president to appoint and fire ministers and top state officials, control the budget, issue decrees, and declare emergency rule. Parliamentary elections will be held every five years, instead of four, and at the same time as the presidential elections. Furthermore, the office of prime minister will disappear and parliament will lose its right of interpellation. According to the Turkish government, the presidential system will bring strong leadership and free the country of unstable coalition governments. Critics, however, fear that allowing the president to retain ties to his political party will jeopardise the separation of powers and lead to a system without checks and balances. 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 proposed Turkish system, however, the president will be able to be both leaders of a political party and president. In addition, critics are concerned that Erdogan is trying to establish a one-man rule. If the reforms are approved, taking effect in 2019, he will be allowed to serve two more terms as president. This could thus keep Erdogan in power for another ten years.

Kurdish Issue

In recent months Turkey has dismissed and replaced a total of 32 HDP mayors who were elected in the March 31 local elections. With some of them also being detained on suspicion of links to and activities in support of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). These dismissals and arrests have sparked protests in the southeastern provinces, which in turn were put down by riot police. Erdogan's government has been very active in restricting the influence gained by the HDP in local elections. Turkey has been fighting the outlawed PKK for years now, and the government has been vocal about their distrust of the HDP. 

In an internationally condemned move, Erdoğan ordered his troops to invade parts of Syria controlled by the Kurds after Trump announced he would withdraw his forces. Erdoğan defended the move by claiming that it was intended to expel the 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 - over which they lost control over a few years ago - this opened up the way for both sides to agree on a ceasefire. On 22 October 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.

Rifts within AK party

On 12 December 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 is not the only former Erdogan ally to break ranks in recent months, with former economy minister Ali Babacan also announcing plans to set up a new party in the coming weeks. Babacan resigned from the AK party in July 2019, citing deep differences. Babacan already announced that an internationally renowned economist, Daron Acemoğlu, will take part in the new initiative, this reaffirms the aim of Babacan to get support from higher educated Turks. But as he is accused of having links with Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, it may be harder for Babacan to get votes to form the conservative electorate in Turkey. Davutoglu’s party can be considered as a catch-all party for now, with most of his rhetoric aimed at establishing a ‘ new democratic’ order based on equal right and freedoms.

The formation of two breakaway parties and the election of Selahattin Demirtaş as the mayor of Istanbul show that trust in the AK Party and Erdogan has been declining over the years. With the Turkish economy slowly coming to a standstill, Erdogan is tasked with regaining grip over the Turkish society once again. Already, the government is exercising strict control over the media and has put an increasing amount of opposition figures in jail. But the splits in the AK party along with the declining economy could pose a real threat to the rule of the AK party and its leader Erdogan. 




Parliamentary elections

2016 referendum
On the 16th of April, a referendum was held on replacing the current parliamentary system by a presidential system, with 51.4 per cent of the citizens voting for and 48.6 per cent voting against the constitutional changes. 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', in many regions in the Anatolian heartland however the 'yes' vote won.

The constitutional changes will enable the president to appoint and fire ministers and top state officials, control the budget, issue decrees, and declare emergency rule. Parliamentary elections will be held every five years, instead of four, and at the same time as the presidential elections. Furthermore, the office of prime minister will disappear and parliament will lose its right of interpellation. The reforms are expected to be fully implemented in 2019, coinciding with the November 2019 elections. If Erdoğan wins two presidential elections in a row, he could stay in power until 2029. Opponents fear that the changes will lead to a one-man rule and autocracy.

2015 parliamentary elections
On 1 November 2015, snap elections were held in Turkey after political parties failed to form a coalition after the June general elections.  During the elections, 8,426 candidates stood on the lists of 16 political parties. The Justice and Development Party (AKP)  won 49.37% of the votes, gaining 315 seats in parliament. This is a steep rise compared to the June elections when the AKP won 40.87% of the votes and was unable to establish a single-party rule. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) gained 25.41% of the votes, accounting for 133 seats in parliament. This result is almost equal to their election results in June when they gained 24.95% of the votes. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) lost a considerable amount of votes, as they won 11.94% of the votes, compared to 16.29% in the June elections. The People’s Democratic Party (HDP) also saw their votes decline, as they gained 10.68% of the votes, compared to 13.12% in June. The MHP and HDP will have 61 and 41 seats in parliament, respectively.  None of the smaller parties gained more than 0.7% of the vote. The turnout was 86%.

With these election results, the AKP will be able to establish a single-party rule, however, the party falls short of the  “supermajority” of 367 that would have enabled the party to push through constitutional amendments on its own; such as president Erdogan’s desire to change to a presidential system. It is unlikely that a coalition will be formed, as the AKP campaigned promising a single party rule to provide stability and none of the other three parties in parliament has expressed a desire to form a coalition.


% of votes

Seats in parliament

Justice and Development Party (AKP)



Republican People's Party (CHP)



Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)



People's Democratic Party (HDP)



The run-up to the elections was marked by the Ankara bombing, which led most of the political parties to suspend the campaigning for a period. Mainly the HDP was affected by the bombing, as it was targeted against the party and their supporters. During the campaigning, the AKP focused on the economic situation in Turkey and the stability a one-party rule would bring. President Erdogan, unlike the June elections, kept mainly out of campaign events. The CHP campaigned with the slogan “Turkey first”, focusing on ending terrorist actions, on the labour system and education. The MHP was criticized for being “negative” as it said it would not consider working together with the HDP and it withdrew from the negotiations after the June elections. The HDP focused on the Kurdish issue, as well as democracy.

According to international election observers from the OSCE  the elections “offered voters a variety of choices. The challenging security environment, in particular in the south-east, coupled with a high number of violent incidents, including attacks against party members and campaign staff, as well as on party premises, hindered contestants’ ability to campaign freely.” Furthermore “media freedom remains an area of serious concern and the number of criminal investigations of journalists and the closure of some media outlets, reduced voters’ access to a plurality of views and information.”  Overall the OSCE said that “election day was generally peaceful” and ”generally organized efficiently”. The counting process was assessed as “transparent and well organized”.

Presidential elections

Turkey’s first direct presidential elections took place on 10 August 2014. For the first time, about 55 million citizens eligible to vote, both within Turkey and abroad, could cast their ballots for either one of the three candidates: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Justice and Development Party, AKP), Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu (Republican People’s Party, CHP and Nationalist Movement Party, MHP) or Selahattin Demirtaş (People’s Democracy Party, HDP). A constitutional referendum in 2010 had given the power to Turkish citizens to vote directly for their head of state. 

While turnout remained significantly low with less than 75 per cent, the incumbent Prime Minister and leader of the AKP, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected as the first directly elected President of Turkey with a small majority of 51.79 per cent of the votes, and, thus, the second round of voting was avoided. Former General Secretary of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, came in second, with 38.44 per cent of the votes. The co-leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş, came third with 9.76 per cent of the votes. On 28 August Erdoğan became officially the President of Turkey, taking over from Abdullah Gül. On the same day, Ahmet Davutoğlu was elected as the Prime Minister.

President Erdoğan received criticism both from his political opposition and international observers for media bias in favour of Erdoğan, corruption accusations, inaccuracy of opinion polls and the misuse of official public resources in Erdoğan’s election campaign. Moreover, critique rose when President Erdoğan went beyond the Turkish Constitution and exceeded the traditional role of Turkish presidents by carrying out not only ceremonial and neutral tasks but also executive tasks.

Nevertheless, on behalf of the European Union the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and the European Council President, Herman van Rompuy, congratulated Erdoğan on his victory. Moreover, the European Union hoped to pursue closer relations with Turkey, stressed the need for a solution to the Cyprus dispute and the need for social reconciliation within Turkey. The President of the United States, Barack Obama, also congratulated Erdoğan on this “historical opportunity” and stressed that the United States is prepared to work with Erdoğan and the new Prime Minister in their new roles.

Official election results:





Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Justice and Development Party



Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu

Republican People’s Party and the Nationalist Movement Party



Selahattin Demirtaş

Peoples’ Democratic Party



Political parties

(Social) Democratic Parties

Logo of Republican People’s Party

Republican People’s Party (CHP)

Party Leader: Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu

Number of seats: 133


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Peace and Democracy Party (BDP)

Party Leader: Selahattin Demirtaş et Gültan Kışanak

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Logo of Social Democratic People’s Party

Social Democratic People’s Party (SHP)

Party Leader: Murat Karayacin


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Other Parties

Logo of Justice and Development Party

Justice and Development Party (AKP)

Party Leader: Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Number of seats: 315


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Logo of Nationalist Action Party

Nationalist Action Party (MHP)

Party Leader: Devlet Bahceli

Number of seats: 53


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Logo of Felicity Party

Felicity Party (SP)

Party Leader: Necmettin Erbakan


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Logo of Motherland Party

Motherland Party (ANAP)

Party Leader: Erkan Mumcu


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Logo of True Path Party

True Path Party (DYP)

Party Leader: Mehmet Agar


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Logo of Young Party

Young Party (GP)

Party Leader: Cem Uzan

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Logo of The Democratic Left Party

The Democratic Left Party (DSP)

Party Leader: Zeki Sezer


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Logo of Future Party

Future Party (GP)

Party Leader: Ahmet Davutoğlu

Number of seats: 0

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Logo of İyi Party (Good Party)

İyi Party (Good Party)

Party Leader: Meral Akşener

Number of seats: 39

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Image of Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Recep Tayyip Erdogan


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Image of Binali Yildirim

Binali Yildirim

Prime Minister

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Image of Kemal Kilicdaroglu

Kemal Kilicdaroglu

Chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP)

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Image of Ekrem İmamoğlu

Ekrem İmamoğlu

Mayor of Istanbul

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Image of Selahattin Demirtaş

Selahattin Demirtaş

Leader of the HDP

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