A vignette on the Turkish Political System

Turkey’s political history has had many impressive achievements and also some glaring failures. Geographically located at the joint of Europe, Asia and Arabia, the nation’s demography is culturally, linguistically and religiously diversified. In general, policy making is conducted within the framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic. The Prime Minister is the head of the government. The President (Cumhurbaskani in the vernacular) has a nominal role as the head of state, who oversees the functioning of this multi-party system. Many significant changes to the constitution were made after the 1982 Referendum.

As in other electoral democracies, separation of powers exists between the Legislative, Judiciary and Executive branches. The President, Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers collectively wield Executive power, whereas the Grand National Assembly of Turkey holds the Legislative power. The National Assembly consists of 550-seats and represents 81 provinces across the country. The duration of the term for elected members is four years. In order to be represented in the Parliament, a political party must acquire at least 10% of the total votes cast in the parliamentary elections. Elections take place every five years under the principle of universal suffrage to elect the President and the Prime Minister.

The Judicial system in Turkey is quite unique. In the absence of the jury system, it is the judges themselves who arrive at decisions after court hearings. The judicial system is open to the general public, reflecting the democratic underpinnings of the institution. The High Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors (HSYK) play an important role in overseeing judicial integrity among the members. The Judicial Networking System is a recent installation that helps citizens to access court decisions and other key documents.

In modern Turkey, the three key political principles are Kemalism, Laicism and Modernization. A special aspect of Turkish politics is the influence of Islamic theology in some of the policies. The country has a vibrant political culture, with different ideological viewpoints jostling for center-stage. Hence, we see strands of neo-liberalism, Socialism, Anarchism and Islamism all finding mention in the national political discourse.

The military of the country continues to play an important role in national politics. The official state ideology of Turkey also gives prominence to the military and perceives the institution as the guardian of the state and its founding principles. On the flip side, the military has in the past intervened or dismantled the democratic process and assumed executive power through coup-de-dat. Some of the prominent instances of interference or overthrowing were witnessed in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997. While some of the coups were legitimized by widespread popular support for them, the continued over-shadow of military power has at other times undermined the general interests of the population. It also hinders and threatens the prospects for democracy in the country.
Hence, on balance, Turkey as a nation has taken many positive strides alongside a few flawed tendencies. The political system and the society at large continue to evolve and grow with each passing year.

References:

E. Ozbudun, 2000, Contemporary Turkish Politics: Challenges to Democratic Consolidation, Published by Lynne Rienner.

Ersel Aydinli, Nihat Ali Özcan, and Dogan Akyaz (January/February 2006). “The Turkish Military’s March Toward Europe”. Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 16 December 2008.