Republican People's Party (RPP)

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The Republic of Turkey's first political party, founded in 1923.

The Republican People's Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi), was founded by its first president, Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), and its first vice president, Ismet Inönü Its major goal was the establishment of a national-territorial Turkish state. Until the late 1920s the RPP was ideologically eclectic, attempting to reconcile the views of conservatives and the supporters of progress. During its first years, the leadership focused on modernization. Denying social cleavages, the party refused to identify with any particular class. Kemalism was first proclaimed as a political doctrine at the second party congress in October 1927, when Mustafa Kemal delivered a sixday speech outlining the RPP goals: republicanism, meaning rejection of monarchy and dictatorship; nationalism, or the rejection of any dynastic, religious, or racial bases for statehood; secularism, or the separation of religion from the state; and popularism. After the economic crisis of 1929 the party added etatism (state economic enterprises) to its principles. At the third party congress in May 1931 the six principles of Kemalism were symbolized in the form of six arrows. The 1931 convention was a turning point for the RPP and for Turkey itself. With the strong emphasis on nationalism and secularism, the state was made arbiter of religious affairs, and the new definition of nationalism attempted to raise the Turkish nation to the highest level of civilization.

In 1935 the RPP merged with the bureaucracy. The minister of interior became, ex officio, the general secretary of the party. In 1937 the six principles of Kemalism were incorporated into the constitution. In 1938, after Mustafa Kemal's death, his successor, Ismet Inönü, became the national leader. The one-party regime lasted through six elections. Two efforts to form competing parties (in 1925 and 1930) ended in failure. In 1941 some democratic processes were permitted, including fielding independent candidates and nominating more candidates than available parliamentary seats. The end of one-party rule came in 1946, when the newly founded Democrat Party (DP) won all seats where its candidates were placed on the ballot. The opposition forced the government to change the existing electoral law. The new law in 1949 introduced secret balloting, open counting, and judicial supervision. On 14 May 1950 the Democrats won 53.3 percent of the popular vote and 83.8 percent of the parliamentary seats. After a peaceful transfer of power, the two-party format lasted until 1960. However, relations between the government and the opposition deteriorated after 1953. The DP supported the more liberally inclined demands of business and catered to the peasant voters. Toward the end of the 1950s the DP became more authoritarian. In April 1960 the DP set up a parliamentary investigating committee that charged the opposition with subversive activities. The ensuing unrest lead to the military coup of 27 May 1960 and the dissolution of the Democrat Party.

In the framework of the Constituent Assembly, the RPP played a determining role in shaping the new constitution. However, the RPP did not obtain a majority in the 1961 elections, and their participation in coalition governments lasted only until 1963. The turning point in the history of the RPP occurred on the eve of the 1965 elections, when Inönü set forth the maxim "left of center" to describe the party's position. Bülent Ecevit was elected the party's general secretary in 1967. The new image of the party tried to provide a moderate-left alternative for the masses of underprivileged voters, with a strong emphasis on a liberal-pluralist social order, a mixed economy, land reform, and a strong cooperative movement. This required a realignment of Turkey's party system, by which the old center-periphery cleavage was replaced by a new functional cleavage. However, the election of 1973 brought the RPP only 33.3 percent of the vote, and the coalition governments headed by Ecevit did not last. The election of 1977 made the party, with 41.4 percent of the vote, the largest in the assembly, but the deadlock between the RPP and the main opposition party paralyzed the government. Civil strife, violence, and poor performance of coalition governments led to the third military coup, in September 1980.

The RPP was disbanded on 16 October 1981 by Turkey's National Security Council. The new constitution of 1982 brought a ten-year ban on all former politicians, but political parties were allowed to reopen under their traditional names. In 1993 the successor of the dissolved RPP, the Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP), merged with the revived RPP. In the 1995 election the RPP, under a new leader, Deniz Baykal, won 10.8 percent of the vote. The fragmentation of the leftist vote had led to a new polarization between the nationalist and Islamic parties. In the 1999 election the RPP received only 8.6 percent of the vote and remained out of parliament. Although Baykal resigned from the party leadership in 1999, he was reelected in 2000 and was able to obtain 19.3 percent of the vote in the 2002 election.

The post-1993 ideological debate within the party has concerned the nature of secularization, the nature of state-society relationships, the role of the nation-state, the approach of the party to globalization, and minority rights and liberties. A new interpretation of secularism has been triggered by the debate around the Anatolian Left. This concept, initiated by Baykal in 2000, draws parallels between the two Muslim groups (Alevi and Sunni) as well as non-Muslims. Baykal argues that the RPP has to have a deeper and more correct analysis of Turkish culture and history. By returning to the Anatolian roots and claiming a nationally authentic flavor, the dichotomy between the elite and masses can be overcome. This implies a move away from a class analysis to a human-centered analysis. The RPP maintains good relations with some organized interest groups, such as trade unions, small business organizations, and secular women's associations. The RPP indicated its sympathy for the identity search among people of Kurdish origin, but maintains a clear distinction between ethnic separatism and identity politics. With regard to human rights, the RPP has made this issue its primary focus. During the 2002 electoral campaign, accountability of parliamentarians and transparency of the administration dominated its political rhetoric. On basic issues of a welfare state, the RPP proposes universal education, healthcare, and social security reforms. In the realm of economics, the RPP defends the role of the market economy but wants to control it with organized labor and consumer groups. The RPP actively supports Turkey's admission to the European Union and is a member of the Socialist International. The major weaknesses of the party are the domination of factionalism and the increasingly fierce intraparty competition due to the shrinking of the party.

see also atatÜrk, mustafa kemal; ecevit, bÜlent; İnÖnÜ, İsmet; kemalism.


Çarkoğlu, Ali. "The Turkish Party System in Transition: Party Performance and Agenda Transformation." Political Studies 46, no. 3 (1998): 544571.

Güneş-Ayata, Ayşe. "The Republican People's Party." Turkish Studies 3, no. 1 (2002): 102121.

Heper, Metin, and Landau, Jacob M., eds. Political Parties and Democracy in Turkey. New York: I. B. Tauris, 1991.

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