The first significant nationwide party, the Republican People's Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi—CHP), was organized by Mustafa Kemal in 1923. Strong, centralized authority and state economic planning marked its 27 years of power (1923–50). It deemphasized everything religious to the point of subordinating religious activity and organization to state control.
Not until 1946 did a second popular party, the Democrat Party (Demokrat Parti—DP), come into being. Initially formed by a small group of dissident CHP members of parliament, the DP demanded greater political and economic liberalism and specifically a relaxation of central controls. When they came to power in 1950, the Democrats put into effect their policies of economic expansion through rapid mechanization and free enterprise; they also emphasized rural development through liberal credit terms to farmers. These policies, aimed at broadening the base of the economy, helped to return the Democrats to power three times in succession. After 1954, however, the Democrat regime reinstituted many of the former controls and instituted others, notably over the press. The CHP condemned these moves as well as what it regarded as lack of economic planning and of adequate fiscal and commercial controls. Both the Democrats and the CHP supported a firmly pro-Western, anti-Communist foreign policy.
In the first elections of the Second Republic (October 1961), none of the four competing parties won a controlling majority in either chamber, and a coalition government was formed for the first time in 1962. The coalition, however, was short-lived, for the newly formed Justice Party (Adalet Partisi—AP) withdrew from the governing group of parties and became the chief political opposition. The AP, which became the main political force in the country after the 1965 elections, favored private enterprise (in this respect it can be considered the successor of the DP, which was banned in 1960). Organized originally by local Democrat leaders, the AP came to reflect the views of modernizationminded professionals as well as workers and villagers. In the 1965 elections, the AP won 53.8% of the seats in the House of Representatives and 61% of the Senate seats. The elections of October 1969 confirmed its legislative predominance.
In December 1970, dissident members of the AP created the Democratic Party (Demokratik Parti). Another new organization, the Republican Reliance Party (Cumhuriyetçi Güven Partisi— CGP), formed by dissident members of the CHP, put up its first candidates in the 1969 elections. The National Salvation Party (Milli Selâmet Partisi—MSP) was created in March 1973 for the purpose of preserving Islamic traditions and bringing about economic and social reforms. In the general elections of 14 October 1973, the CHP replaced the AP as the most popular party in Turkey, although it did not achieve a parliamentary majority, and the CHP and MSP formed a coalition government under Bülent Ecevit. After the Ecevit government fell in September 1974, more than six months passed before a new permanent government was formed by Süleyman Demirel. His minority government of the Nationalist Front, which included representatives of the AP, CGP, MSP, and National Action Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi), commanded 214 out of 450 National Assembly seats. After the CHP won 213 Assembly seats in the 1977 elections, Ecevit, having formed a minority cabinet, lost a parliamentary vote of confidence and had to resign. But his rival, Demirel, fared little better as prime minister, and his coalition government soon dissolved. Each served another brief stint as head of government prior to the 1980 military coup.
The new military government banned all political parties and, under the 1982 constitution, forbade the leaders of the AP and CHP from active participation in politics for 10 years. After the new constitution was approved, however, the government allowed the formation of new political groups. The first new party, the Nationalist Democracy Party, was formed in May 1983 by certain retired military officers, former government officials, and business leaders; it received support from the military but fared poorly in local and national elections and was disbanded three years later. Another new group, the rightist Great Turkey Party, was abolished by the government soon after its founding because of alleged close resemblances to the banned AP; the True Path Party (Dogru Yol Partisi—DYP) was established in its place but was not allowed to participate in the elections to the National Assembly on 6 November 1983. Also barred were the newly formed Welfare Party and the Social Democratic Party, and Demirel and other politicians were temporarily placed under military detention. The Populist Party, which the military was said to regard as a loyal opposition, and the Motherland Party (Anatavan Partisi—ANAP), formed by conservative business leaders and technocrats, did win approval to run. In the balloting, the ANAP won a majority in the National Assembly, with 212 out of 400 seats, and its leader, Turgut Özal, became prime minister on 13 December.
Subsequently, all parties were allowed to participate in local elections. In 1985, the Populist Party merged with the Social Democratic Party to form the Social Democratic Populist Party (Sosyal Demokrasi Halkçi Partisi—SDHP). The Free Democrat Party was formed in 1986 as a successor to the Nationalist Democracy Party. In September 1987, the 10-year ban on political participation by over 200 leaders of the AP and CHP was lifted after a referendum indicated approval by a bare majority of just over 50%. At the same time, Özal announced elections in November of that year and had a law passed requiring nomination of candidates by party leaders rather than by popular choice. After challenges from opposition groups, the Constitutional Court declared the new procedure illegal. In the November 1987 elections, Özal was reelected as prime minister, with 36.3% of the vote; the ANAP won 292 of the 450 seats in the National Assembly (although polling only 36% of the vote), the SDHP won 99 seats, and the DYP took 59 seats. A coalition of True Path and Social Democrats defeated the Motherland Party in 1991. Outside the established political system are the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and other smaller separatist parties which have been banned.
In 1993, Motherland Party leader Turgut Özal died while serving as president. He was succeeded by True Path leader Suleyman Demirel. In July of that year, Tansu Ciller, chairperson of True Path, became prime minister (Turkey's first female prime minister). Ciller headed a shaky coalition and in a budgetary debate in September 1995, her government collapsed. She lost a vote of confidence in October and new elections were held in December. The elections were won by the Welfare Party, which took 158 of 550 seats; although hardly a majority, this was 23 more seats than Ciller's True Path. Fearing an Islamic government, secularists scrambled to form a majority but failed, and in January 1996 President Demirel invited Welfare Party leader Necmettin Erbakan to form a government.
The Erbakan government lasted barely a year and a half. While popular in rural areas, it faced strong opposition from the business elite—which tends to be pro-Western—and the military. Beginning in 1997, the military let it be known that if Erbakan did not uphold Turkey's secular traditions, it would overthrow the government and return it to secular parties. In July 1997 Erbakan resigned and Motherland Party leader Mesut Yilmaz was asked to form a government. Following allegations of corruption, the Yilmaz government fell in November 1998 and was replaced by an interim minority government headed by Ecevit pending early elections.
Ecevit returned to head a minority government pending early elections in 1999. On 18 April 1999, Turkish voters gave Ecevit's DSP a plurality with 136 seats (22.3% of the vote). Ecevit went on to form a coalition government with the MHP and Motherland. In May 2000, President Demirel's long political career came to an end with the election of Ahmet Necdet Sezer as his successor.
Political pressure brought to bear on the Ecevit government in mid-2002 led to the resignation of 8 of his cabinet ministers and a call for early parliamentary elections. The elections were won by the Islamic-based Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, or AK), in a landslide victory. The AK took 363 of 550 seats in parliament with 34.3% of the vote; the CHP took 178 seats with 19.4% of the vote; and independents took 9 seats, as other parties participating in the elections did not meet the 10% threshold for obtaining seats. Abdullah Gul became prime minister, but the AK leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, retains power in the party. The rise of the AK is one demonstration of the popularity of Islamic parties in Turkey, although the country is officially attempting to align itself with the West. The Islamic Welfare Party, which had appeal among the middle class, was banned and closed in 1998, and Erbakan was banned from participating in politics for 5 years. The Welfare Party's successor, the Virtue Party (Fazilet Partisi), was the main opposition party in 2001 when it was banned that June by the Constitutional Court for posing a threat to the state. A new party, the Felicity or Happiness Party (Saadet Partisi) was established by banned members of the Virtue Party. The AK also had its roots in the Virtue Party.
Former foreign minister Ismail Cem formed a new party, the New Turkey Party (Yeni Türkiye Partisi), which is centrist in orientation and polled 1% of the vote in the 2002 elections.
In April 2002, the PKK changed its name to the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK).