Turkey - Political background

The Republic of Turkey is the political successor to the Ottoman Empire, whose domination extended over most of North Africa, the Middle East (with the exception of Iran), the Balkans, and much of Central Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The nineteenth century witnessed the disintegration of that empire, as different provinces gained their autonomy or independence. The final collapse came when the Ottomans entered World War I on the German side. The end of that war was followed by the War of Independence led by General Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who defeated the occupying Allied forces and eventually dissolved the Ottoman dynasty.

A secular nationalist republic was declared on 29 October 1923, with Ataturk as its first president. He initiated a reform program under which Turkey abandoned much of its Ottoman and Islamic heritage. The new principles adopted by the republic were secularization, establishment of state control of the economy, and creation of a new national consciousness.

Multiparty democracy was introduced into Turkey in 1946 and the first peaceful change of government took place in 1950. Since the transition to a multiparty regime, Turkey has experienced three brief periods of military intervention (1960, 1971, and 1980), during which democratic principles were suspended. For the most part, however, Turkey remained a democratic country with free elections held at regular intervals.

The Turkish Constitution has been rewritten three times (1924, 1961, and 1982). Under the present structure, legislative power is vested in a unicameral National Assembly. This 550-seat body is elected by universal suffrage for a five-year-term. The National Assembly in turn elects the president for a seven-year term. The prime minister, who heads the government, is appointed by the president and usually leads the majority party in the National Assembly. The president is also vested with some executive powers. In 2000, after the ruling coalition was unsuccessful in their efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to allow Suleyman Demirel to serve another term as president, the presidency was won by Ahmet Necdet Sezer. Following parliamentary elections held on 3 November 2002 that were swept by the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, or AK), Abdullah Gül was named prime minister. He resigned in favor of the head of the AK, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on 11 March 2003. Erdogan took office as prime minister on 14 March.

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