Europäisches Institut für Menschenrechte - Prof. Dr. Dr. Ümit Yazıcıoğlu -
       Europäisches Institut für Menschenrechte- Prof. Dr. Dr. Ümit Yazıcıoğlu -

Elections and Leadership in Turkey's Political Transformation

Elections and Leadership in Turkey's Political Transformation



Prof. Dr. Dr. Ümit Yazıcıoğlu


Since the early 2000s, Turkey has undergone significant political and social transformations. At the heart of this transformation process are the elections held and the societal preferences that became evident in these elections. However, to fully understand the dynamics and outcomes of these elections, one must also consider the political actors of the time, their strategies, and the general context in which Turkey found itself.


In this context, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's political strategy, leadership style, and the reforms carried out under his leadership have played a key role in Turkey's transformation process. However, alongside this general picture, factors such as political parties' candidate selection processes, election laws, and diversity of representation have also been decisive in societal transformation.


In this article, by examining the period from April 9, 2015, to April 9, 2023, we will provide a detailed analysis of how Turkey's political landscape has been shaped, the milestones it has passed, and the impact of the elections during this period on society. We will particularly delve into how Erdoğan's political approach during this time has directed Turkey and how other political parties have responded to this process. The candidate selection process of political parties in Turkey stands out as an indispensable element of a democratic election system. Transparency, inclusiveness, and democratic principles in this process have been occasionally evaluated with a critical perspective.


The Current Structure of the Candidate Determination Process:
Within the framework of the current election law in Turkey, political parties form their candidate lists according to their internal dynamics and methods. However, it is observed that this process has a centralist character in many parties. Candidate lists determined by party headquarters without sufficiently considering local dynamics and member opinions present a picture conflicting with the principle of intra-party democracy.


The candidate determination processes of political parties in Turkey directly determine the quality of democratic representation. However, the current situation indicates that this process is carried out with a centralist approach, neglecting local needs and dynamics.


This generalized approach simply overlooks the specific problems and needs of local communities, even sometimes belittling them. The central administrations of political parties are so focused on their broad political visions that this vision can dramatically deviate from the real needs of local communities. Such an approach can further complicate issues by responding to specific matters, like the sea pollution or fishing-related problems of a coastal city, with a general environmental policy.


Furthermore, the lack of genuine communication with the local population during the candidate selection process reveals a structure that is unaware, distant, and disconnected from the real needs of the community. This leads parties to select candidates based on popularity or intra-party relations rather than true merit. Such an approach not only results in the neglect of societal needs but also leads to societal backlash.


Lastly, the "one-size-fits-all" policy understanding brought about by parties' central approach completely overlooks the unique social and economic dynamics of Turkey's various regions. This can lead to a structure where certain segments of the community are inadequately represented, marginalized, or even looked down upon.

In conclusion, the insensitivity and bias of political parties' candidate determination processes towards local dynamics lead to serious deficiencies in democratic representation. It is essential for parties to adopt a more sensitive, democratic, and inclusive approach during this critical process. Only in this way will a fair representation that responds to the real needs and demands of the community be possible.


Transparency and Candidate Selection:

The transparency of candidate selection processes is a critical factor in determining the public's trust in this process. Opacity in the process leads to questions about the criteria by which candidates are determined, undermining societal trust.


Transparency in candidate selection processes is indispensable for a democratic administration. The prevailing perception in Turkey that the process of determining candidates within political parties is not transparent is triggering concerns in the public eye about how fair and objective these election processes are.


Many people complain about not being able to access clear information regarding the criteria used in the candidate selection process, the methods by which candidates are chosen, and why certain individuals are highlighted. This lack of information can lead to speculations about what kind of interactions, negotiations, and decisions are made behind the scenes in the election process.


Enhancing transparency can eliminate these uncertainties and unknowns, consolidating public trust in political parties and election processes. An open and transparent process provides parties with an opportunity to demonstrate how fair, objective, and considerate they are of the real needs of the public during candidate selection. This also allows the election processes and the subsequent administrations to be more widely accepted by society.

In summary, neglecting transparency can harm the credibility of political parties and election processes in the eyes of society; whereas increased transparency can restore this trust and contribute to the healthy functioning of the democratic process.


Law and Intra-Party Democracy:

Political parties have a responsibility to make their candidate selection processes more transparent, inclusive, and democratic. However, for this transformation to take place, the current election law also needs to be revised.


One of the fundamental principles of democracy is to ensure representation in a fair and transparent manner. In this context, the candidate selection processes of political parties play a critical role in the functioning of democracy. Nevertheless, there are frequent criticisms that the current practices fall short, intra-party democracy doesn't fully function, and candidate selection processes are not transparent.


While it is expected that political parties make this process more transparent and democratic, for these changes to be realized, legal regulations must also be revised accordingly. For instance, in many countries, political parties determine their candidates through primaries involving the participation of their members. In the USA, both Democratic and Republican parties organize primaries to determine their presidential candidates. This process, where candidates are determined by the party base and carried out with broad participation, increases democratic legitimacy.


However, in Turkey, unless there is such an arrangement in the election law, it will become challenging for parties to follow a democratic process internally. Legal regulations can be compelling, prompting parties to adopt certain standards in their candidate selection processes. For instance, the law can mandate a certain percentage of member participation in the candidate selection process. Similarly, to increase the transparency of the selection processes, sharing the candidate selection criteria with the public could become a legal requirement.


In conclusion, while the responsibility lies heavily on political parties, to ensure that this responsibility is fulfilled and the process is democratized, revising legal regulations accordingly is inevitable. This is an essential step that needs to be taken for the democracy in Turkey to be founded on firmer grounds.


''June 7, 2015 General Elections''

From April 9, 2015, Turkey witnessed a series of highly dynamic and strategically significant electoral processes. This period featured votes that deeply impacted Turkey's political dynamics and societal structure.


June 7, 2015 General Elections: This election went down in history as the one where the Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its single-party majority which it had held since 2002. However, no party managed to secure a majority sufficient to form a government on its own. This brought the possibility of a coalition government in Turkey into the limelight. Also, the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) passed the 10% electoral threshold, entering the parliament.


November 1, 2015 Snap General Elections: Following the inconclusive coalition talks after the June 7 elections, Turkey held snap general elections later that year. In this election, the AKP returned to single-party power with 49.5% of the vote, securing 317 parliamentary seats.


April 16, 2017 Constitutional Referendum: Turkey held a referendum proposing a shift to a Presidential System of governance. With approximately 51.4% voting in favor, this change brought about a fundamental transformation in Turkey's system of governance, expanding the powers of the President.


June 24, 2018 Presidential and Parliamentary General Elections: This went down in history as the first election under the new system of governance. The candidate of the People's Alliance and then-President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected President with 52.6% of the vote. On the same day, in the parliamentary elections, AKP received 42.6% and MHP got 11.1% of the votes, securing a majority in the parliament.


These elections were critical votes that shaped Turkey's recent political transformation, governance changes, and societal dynamics. Particularly, the 2017 Constitutional Referendum initiated a historic transformation in Turkey's form of governance. The 2018 elections showcased the fruits of this transformation and became the first election held under the new system.


HDP's 2015 Election Candidate Selection Process: Representation, Transparency, and Diversity Criticism.


The announcement of candidate lists of political parties in the 2015 Turkish general elections brought along many questions about the functioning of democracy. Especially, the candidate selection process of the HDP can be critically assessed in terms of intra-party democracy, representation, and diversity.


Firstly, comments made on HDP's Erzurum list led to criticisms that the candidates determined by the party were distant from reflecting local dynamics. This generally shows that while political parties act with a central perspective, they might overlook local sensitivities and needs. Like other regions of Turkey, Erzurum has its own sociocultural dynamics, and the lack of sufficient representation of these dynamics in the candidate lists can drive voters away from the party.


Additionally, when examining HDP's general candidate list, there is an argument that the party does not adequately reflect Turkey's ethnic and cultural diversity. It's claimed that HDP adopts a Kurdish and Alevi-centered approach, turning the party into a regional one. This could mean that the party is unable to develop a national vision and only represents a specific segment. Considering Turkey's demographic structure, this approach might challenge the party's chances of passing the threshold.


Moreover, individual situations like the notable writer Günay Aslan not being on the lists raise questions about how transparent and democratic HDP's candidate selection process is. It's essential to remember that the candidate selection processes of political parties have critical importance for the healthy functioning of intra-party democracy.


Lastly, the influence of HDP's approach to the "resolution process" on its election strategy cannot be overlooked. While the resolution process is critically important for both Turkey and the Kurdish issue, it's evident that not being able to determine a consistent and clear policy on this matter could put the party in a difficult position.


In conclusion, HDP's candidate selection process in the 2015 elections should be critically assessed in the context of democratic representation, transparency, and diversity. It's crucial for the healthy functioning of democracy that political parties remain open to such criticisms and continuously review their internal dynamics.


President Erdoğan's Political Strategy and Transformation of Turkey
The most distinctive feature of this period was the central role played by Recep Tayyip Erdo
ğan's political vision and strategic leadership in Turkey's political and societal transformation. Since the early 2000s, Erdoğan has consistently been at the top of Turkish politics, being the main actor directing both his party, AKP, and Turkey.


Under Erdoğan's leadership, Turkey pursued economic growth, infrastructure investments, development projects, and a more active policy on the international stage. The growth rates and development projects Turkey achieved, especially in the last decade, were seen as concrete results of Erdoğan's vision. Mega projects and urban transformation studies, in particular, became symbols of the country's modernization process.


The 2017 Constitutional Referendum and subsequent elections represented the pinnacle of Erdoğan's political strategy. The transition to the new government system was seen as a result of his leadership understanding and vision of governing Turkey more effectively. During this period, Erdoğan's understanding of political stability and effective management was embraced by a broad segment of Turkish society. This was considered a success in demonstrating Erdoğan's ability to steer the country steadily despite the internal and external challenges Turkey faced.


Conclusion and Evaluation

The period from 2015 to 2021 is a crucial timeframe for Turkish politics. The elections held during this period are the most evident indicators of societal and political transformations. When we look at the election results and the factors affecting these results, we see two main currents emerging: The leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and HDP's election performance.


Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's political leadership made Turkey a significant player both nationally and internationally during this period. His reforms, economic success, deep connection with the public, and visionary leadership led to him being admired both domestically and abroad. Erdoğan's success became a symbol of political stability supported by broad segments of society.


On the other hand, HDP drew attention with its performance in the 2015 elections. The party managed to get votes not only from Kurdish-origin citizens but also from people from different segments of Turkey. However, HDP's election strategies sometimes faced criticism. Criticisms regarding their candidate selection processes and representation diversity indicate that the party needs to adopt a more inclusive approach.


Lastly, the political developments during this period can be seen as indicators of Turkey's democratic maturity. Both Erdoğan's visionary leadership and HDP's election success reveal how open Turkey is to different voices and approaches. This is a promising sign for the country's future. It's inevitable for political parties in Turkey to critically examine their candidate selection processes and reform them in the context of implementing the fundamental principles of democracy. These reforms will contribute to both political parties and Turkish democracy, ensuring more effective democratic representation.



15 September 2023 Luxembourg (and 9 April 2015 Yüksekova)


Note: The content of this article has been presented in conference format at Oxford, Leipzig, and Luxembourg universities. Constructive feedback on the topic and content of the article was received at these prestigious educational institutions, leading to rich discussions.



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