26 Aralık 2010 Pazar

Party Systems in Europe and in Turkey

Democracy by dictionary definition means “government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives”[1] and is accepted as the best or at least the “least bad”[2] method of governing. There have always been discussions about the definition of democracy. Minimalist Schumpeterian[3] definition of democracy refers to a “polity that permits the choice between elites by citizens voting in regular and competitive elections” (Karl, p. 164). Samuel Huntington also with his “two turnover” test[4], places himself in the category of this minimalist definition (Karl, p. 164). However, broader definition of democracy includes important conditions such as the freedom of expression, absence of discrimination against particular groups and political parties, freedom of association for all interests, an active civil society and civilian control over military forces (Karl, p. 165). While minimalist approach is criticized for equation democracy with electoralism, maximalist approach is blamed to be too idealistic. No matter what the definition is, one thing is certain; democracy could be established by competing political parties and in a parliamentary regime. That is why; democratic level of party system in a country determines the quality of democracy in a country. In this assignment, I am going to compare and contrast European political party system and Turkish political party system concerning recruitment to legislative office (or the selection of parliamentarians), party finance and party closure cases.
Recruitment to legislative office is very important for a parliamentary democracy since “the quality of candidates selected determines the quality of the deputies elected” (Lundell, p. 2). According to Lars Bille, if the organizational structure of the political parties lacks convenient mechanisms for civic participation, we can hardly call this regime as democratic (Lundell, p. 2). There are two extreme examples in parliamentarian selection. At one extreme, candidates can be “selected in primaries open for all eligible voters”, at the other extreme “they can be picked up by the party leader” (Lundell, p. 7). Krister Lundell’s detailed quantitative research shows that especially Nordic countries have decentralized and democratic selection procedures compared to Latin American and South European countries (Lundell, p. 16). However, even in South European countries not nearly all candidates are elected by the party leader like in Turkey. That is why, according to Pippa Norris “Turkey does not meet the requirements of democracy” except its Political Parties Law of 1965 (Lundell, p. 6). As we know, in Turkey the political party system is extremely centralized and local constituency elections are almost non-existent. Generally, candidates are elected by party leaders according to their fidelity to the leader which is a very big deficiency of Turkish democracy. We can claim that Turkish political party leaders have semi-God powers due to the lack of intraparty democracy and low democratic culture ordinary people have.
Party finance is also a very important issue for a democracy to flourish and develop. If the finance of politics is not transparent, politicians could easily be perceived as “self-serving and corrupt” and democratic legitimacy might fall (Hopkin, p. 628). Jonathan Hopkin asserts that there are basically four types of parties concerning party financing. The clientelistic mass party works by exploiting the resources of the state to distribute selective incentives to its supporters (Hopkin, p. 631). Turkish political parties fit into this category because of their permanent staff taking frauds (kadrolaşma) and municipality corruptions. The externally financed elite party uses capital-intensive campaign techniques by few professional party workers through financing party supporters and contributors who direct party to defend their interests (Hopkin, p. 632). This model is mostly used in USA. The third model is the self-financing elite party which is based on rich party elite’s financing such as Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Hopkin, p. 634). The cartel party model requires the “major governing parties to agree to maintain state party funding for the opposition when in power” (Hopkin, p. 635). This model is widely used in European democracies and works very efficiently. Although it is used in Turkey too, due to the effects of clientelistic mass party system this model is not efficient in Turkey.
The third major problem in Turkish political party system is related to the banning of political leaders and closure of political parties by Constitutional Court. Although party closure and political banning cases are very rare in Europe, in Turkey 26 political parties were closed down and many political leaders were previously banned for several years. This is mostly caused by Turkey’s democracy-lacking constitution and its differences from the decisions of EU’s Venice Commission. The Venice Commission is an advisory body of the Council of Europe, composed of independent members in the field of Constitutional Law. The Venice Commission claims that a political party could not be closed down unless it uses or appeals for “religious and political violence”. Although Islamist parties in the past were more inclined to political violence and pro-Kurdish parties have always had links with terrorist organization, closure and the banning of a party does not necessarily weaken these radical movements, but rather in some cases we can claim that party closure cases strengthened these movements in the past.
Finally, in my opinion although countries may have some differences related to their culture and political-sociological history (such as the pioneer role of Turkish state and Turkish Armed Forces in modernization and the legacy of Kemalism), the basic rules of democracy are universal and they should be the same everywhere. Turkey should make more democratic improvement concerning the political party and electoral laws in order to develop its democracy.
- Karl, Terry Lynn, (1990), “Dilemmas of Democratization in Latin America”, Comparative Politics, October 1990
- Lundell, Krister, “Determinants of Candidate Selection: A Study of 109 Selection Processes”, (2002)
- Hopkin, Jonathan, “The Problem with Party Finance”, (2004), Party Politics, vol. 10, no: 6
- Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com/

[1] Definition taken from Dictionary.com
[2] “Democracy is not at all the best of political regimes, but rather the least bad”; a famous saying of English premier Winston Churchill.
[3] Reference to Joseph Schumpeter
[4] Samuel Huntington by his “two turnover” test basically claims that if a country has been able to experience change in the governmental power without any serious regime problems at least twice, we can assert that this country is democratic.
Ozan Örmeci

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