Democrat Party (Turkey, historical)
This article is about the historical Democrat Party in Turkey. For the party established in 1970, see Democratic Party (Turkey, 1970). For the new party of the name founded in 2007, see Democratic Party (Turkey, current).
The Democrat Party (Turkish: Demokrat Parti, DP for short) was a Turkish moderately right wing political party, and the country's third legal opposition party, after the Liberal Republican Party (Serbest Cumhuriyet Fırkası) established by Ali Fethi Okyar in 1930, and the National Development Party (Milli Kalkınma Partisi) established by Nuri Demirağ in 1945. Founded and led by Celal Bayar, it was the first of the opposition parties to rise to power, de-seating the Republican People's Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi) during the national elections of 1950 and ending Turkey's one party era. The party facilitated the resurgence of Islam, especially at the popular level, in Turkey.
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The Democrat Party was founded in 1946 to oppose the ruling Republican People's Party, which had established the Turkish Republic and had remained in power from the founding of the Republic through 1950. Its founding members were all well-respected figures in the CHP before breaking off and establishing the Democrat Party. For this reason, both political parties had ideologies rooted in Kemalism which prevented the DP from differing substantially in practice from its predecessor, although it held notable variances in platform. Additionally, the DP still had to function within the confines of the 1924 constitution established by Ataturk and the first parliament which restricted the distance they could put between themselves and the CHP.
The main differences in platform between the two lay in economic policy. While the CHP was guided by statism, the Democrat Party was more interested in privatizing state industries that had helped jump-start the Turkish Republic after World War I now that the country was no longer nascent. The Democrat Party did not repudiate the Republican People's Party's policy of Westernization, but did not pursue it with quite the same vigour. It was also less militantly secular than the Republican People's Party, and championed populism which gained it wide support among Turkey’s intelligentsia.
The party's logo, a galloping white horse, comes from the strong resemblance of the foreign word Demokrat to the Turkish words Demir Kırat, "Iron Kırat". The horse Kırat was a character in popular Turkish legend; it was the horse and trusted companion of Köroğlu, a Robin Hood-type hero who championed causes of the common people against the oppressive regime. "Democrat" and "Demir Kırat" were often interchanged by the peasantry, especially since "Demokrat" didn't easily roll off the tongues of rural voters. The peripheral populations began to view the Democrat Party as the supernatural hero protecting their rights just as in the folklore.
Rise to Power
The events and outcome of World War II played a large role in the emergence of the Democrat Party. A condemnation of fascism coincided with the defeat of the Axis Powers, and Prime Minister İsmet İnönü realized that if he did not invite opposition against the CHP, Turkey would fall into social upheaval: one-party governments were no longer acceptable means of rule for modern states. On November 1, 1945, İnönü made a speech in which he formally invited the formation of opposition parties in order to align Turkey with the democratic principals that had emerged victorious in the war. But other factors were already at work in undermining the rule of the Republican People’s Party— namely, the stagnant nature of the economy. Within the CHP and throughout the country, a rift was forming between statists and liberals, and that rift was magnified with the passage of the land reform bill of 1945. Although the bill was passed, dissent within the CHP led to the expulsion of three party members who then banded together to form the new Democrat Party that same year.
Due to the Democrat Party’s infancy and its inability to fully organize or establish rapport with the Turkish public immediately after its conception, they lost the 1946 national elections with no surprise. In the four years that spanned before the next election, İnönü and the CHP tried desperately to reaffirm their popularity in the Republic, but voters were unconvinced that the party could implement any real change after twenty seven years in power.
By 1950, the Democrat Party had come to portray itself as the champions of the Turkish people, resentful of the CHP and ruling elite classes, despite the fact that most of its leaders were members of this same bureaucratic class. The Democrat Party exploited the CHP's association with Westernization, a source of hostility for the public and a sign they were losing touch with their citizenry. Following the example of the DP, the CHP extended its efforts into the villages to compete for votes, inducting the peasantry into politics for the first time.
In the 1950 elections, the Democrat Party enjoyed a landslide victory and won the majority of seats in the National Assembly, surprising many, especially the Democrats themselves. Their leader, Adnan Menderes, became Prime Minister and his peaceful transition to power marked the beginning of a competitive political system in Turkey.
The new Democrat-controlled Parliament offered a new, broadened political elite. There was a shift from members with military and bureaucratic backgrounds to those with commercial backgrounds and increased representation from small provinces (opposed to mainly Istanbul or Ankara). Despite attacks on Inonu and the CHP's efforts to orient Turkey with the West, the Democrats under Menderes continued this trend. In 1952, Turkey joined NATO and strengthened its ties with the West, an effort to protect against potential Soviet expansionism. Menderes and the Democrat Party became increasingly more involved in issues of national security, and it is often thought that they highlighted these efforts to draw attention away from the poor economic health of the nation, a tactic that would not remain successful for long.
The 1954 elections were again overwhelmingly won by the Democrat Party and Menderes remained Prime Minister. However, by 1955 widespread support for the DP began to deteriorate due to the nation's worsening economic situation. The policies pursued under the DP rule had led to high inflation rates, shortages of critical goods, and poor economic development. Additionally, the DP government began showing a deep authoritarian streak. In the years ahead, the DP increasingly suppressed opposition within their own party and with that of rival parties and stifled the press.
On May 27, 1960, the DP government was overthrown by military group called the National Unity Committee, led by General Cemal Gürsel. The military feared that the founding principles of the Turkish Republic were being eroded, and there was growing public dissatisfaction with Menderes' perceived intolerance of criticism. The military junta stayed in power for the next eighteen months, trying several top DP leaders for unconstitutional rule and high treason. Three of them, including Menderes, were executed. Five others, including Bayar, were sentenced to life imprisonment. The party was officially suppressed on September 29, 1961.
In November 1992, at what was declared to be the party's 5th Grand Conference, several former members relaunched the Democrat Party under the same name and emblem. It was at first led by Hayrettin Erkmen, but the most prominent leader was Aydın Menderes, son of Adnan, who was elected the party's third leader in February 1994. He led until a crippling road accident in 1996.
The relaunched Democrat Party never entertained mainstream politics, and did not participate in Turkey's elections of November 2002. Other recent leaders have included Yalçın Koçak.
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