Refah Partisi

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Main Islamic-oriented political party in Turkey, 19841998.

The emergence of pro-Islamic parties in Turkey can be traced back to 1969, when a group of dissident parliamentarians in the Justice Party attempted to establish a new party focusing on their program called Milli Gorus (National Vision).

The National Order Party (NOP) was set up in January 1970 under the leadership of Necmeddin Erbakan, a mechanical engineer, former university professor, and former president of the Turkish Industry Chambers Union. The major aim of the party was to strengthen national industry and to restore Islamic teaching and morality. Following a military memorandum in 1971, the Constitutional Court investigated the party's antisecular program and closed it in 1972, and Erbakan left for Switzerland. At the end of the same year, a new party, the National Salvation Party (NSP) was founded by lawyer Süleyman Arif Emre.

The NSP, which Erbakan assumed leadership of, participated in several coalition goverments between 1974 and 1980, when a military coup led to the banning of all political parties. After the reopening of political life in 1983, the third pro-Islamic party, Refah Partisi (RP), was established in March 1984 under the leadership of Ahmet Tekdal. Following a referendum the same year, the restitution of political rights to party leaders was accepted. This encouraged Erbakan, who once more assumed the leadership of RP. RP took positions against multinational corporations and European Union membership. The empowering factors were the new urban groups, Muslim intellectuals, and grass roots organizations in the large cities. The party targeted distinct social groups such as youth, women, workers, civil servants, professional cadres, retired persons, and disabled people. The Ladies Commission brought dynamism to the party. The intense activism that took place within the elaborate RP structure was carried out predominantly by religiously mobilized, very dedicated, industrious women. The female party members constantly stressed that they worked "for God's sake," meaning that they did not expect any rewards such as elective or appointive offices in return. In the rural areas of central and southeast Turkey the party included peripheral forces of local merchants and manufacturers, a majority of whom were practicing Muslims and Turkish nationalists. The party succeeded in obtaining the support of Kurds, who seemed to be searching for a political organization that was not part of the political establishment. RP opted to highlight Islamic solidarity more than ethnic or class distinction. RP's transnational character was crucial in securing financial contributions to the party. The large network of migrant associations in Germany supportive of the "National Vision" contributed large membership donations.

The municipal elections of March 1994, the national elections of 1995, and the local elections of June 1996 in which the RP took 33.5 percent of the vote, secured the mayorship of metropolitan cities such as Ankara and Istanbul, as well as the leadership of twenty-two provinces. Erbakan became prime minister in 1996. However, his controversial visits to Libya, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Iran led the military to exert pressure for the resignation of the RP coalition government in June 1997. The Constitutional Court banned the party in February 1998 on grounds of antisecular policies.

The RP leadership immediately established a new party, the Virtue Party (VP), under the leadership of Erbakan's closest collaborator, Recai Kutan. All the deputies of the dissolved RP joined the VP. The new party participated in the 1999 general elections but lost its previous leading position. With 21.3 percent of the general vote and 111 seats out of 550 in the parliament, it became the main opposition party. The Constitutional Court ruled that the VP was solely a continuation of the RP and dissolved it in June 2001.

Subsequently, the conservative wing of the dissolved VP founded the Felicity Party (FP) under the leadership of Recai Kutan. Claiming to be the only representative of the National Vision, the FP received only 2.49 percent of the vote in the general elections of 2002.

Following the dissolution of the Virtue Party, the reformist wing founded under the leadership of the former mayor of Istanbul, Tayyip Erdogğan, the Justice and Development Party (JDP). Although a novice among the competing eighteen parties, the JDP received 34.6 percent of the general vote and 363 seats in parliament. The JDP denied being an Islamist party and used moderate, rather than secular, discourse during the electoral campaign. The JDP does not emphasize the primacy of culture, as did the RP and VP; instead, it claims to represent the true essence and will of society and defines itself as a democratic conservative party.

see also erbakan, necmeddin; milli gÖrÜŞ hareketi; national salvation party.


Arat, Yeşim. Political Islam in Turkey and Women's Organizations. Istanbul: Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), 1999.

Gülalp, Haldun. "The Poverty of Democracy in Turkey: The Refah Party Episode." New Perspectives on Turkey 21, no. 2 (1999): 3559.

Yeşilada, Birol A. "Realignment and Party Adaptation: The Case of the Refah and Fazilet Parties." In Politics, Parties, and Elections in Turkey, edited by Sabri Sayari and Yilmaz Esmer. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2002.

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