Political parties have been largely responsible both for the achievements and the failures of Turkey's experience with democratic politics in the more than fifty years that Turkey has had a multiparty system. This collection of essays (originally published as a special issue of the Turkish Studies journal) analyzes the country's major political parties, with special emphasis on developments during the 1990s. It looks at their electoral support, organizational attributes, ideology, and their impact on shaping public policies. Other than Rubin's brief introduction, all the essays are written by Turkish scholars.
They find that party politics followed several important trends in the 1990s. These included the declining electoral appeal of the pro-secular centrist parties, the growing strength of the Islamist and far-right nationalist forces, and the rise and fall of successive coalition governments that generally failed to address critical economic, social, and political problems. The essays in Political Parties in Turkey offer useful insights and explanations about these trends. The weakening of the centrist parties such as ANAP, DYP, and CHP, resulted largely from their failure to adapt to changes in Turkish society, to strengthen their grassroots organizations, or provide leaders with appeal to broad segments of the electorate. In addition, charges of political corruption significantly tarnished their image.
The Islamist and extreme nationalist parties benefited from the setbacks suffered by the centrist parties, with the Islamists particularly successful in adapting to their environment. They combined an ideology emphasizing a greater role for Islam with an organizational network that catered to the needs of the urban poor. The upsurge in the votes for the extreme nationalist MHP in the 1999 elections reflected both the growing disillusionment of the Turkish voters with the country's centrist parties and the rising tide of nationalism.
The November 2002 elections resulted in a landslide victory for the Islamist AK Party, accompanied by further erosion in the popularity of the secular and centrist parties. Political Parties in Turkey is a valuable guide to understanding why this event marked a major transformation in the Turkish party system with potentially far-reaching implications.