The party of the leader or the leader of the party? - ATILLA YAYLA

The party of the leader or the leader of the party?

In consolidated and stable democracies, political party leaders who have not been successful in elections are resigning. The latest example took place in Britain. The leaders of the Labor Party -who lost the government to the Conservative Party- and the Liberal Democrat Party have resigned and left their leadership seats to someone else. Such things almost never happen in Turkey. There is no such precedent, tradition, understanding, expectation or demand in this regard in our political life. Let alone the resignation of party leaders who lose the elections; the dominance and control of these leaders are actually strengthened. Nobody has the power to unseat them unless they want to be unseated. We must mull over this issue, conduct research and come up with explanations; because this situation reflects a weakness in our democracy and may be blocking the way for our democracy to be improved.

In my opinion, one of the main possible reasons behind this situation is the lack of institutionalization of political parties. Almost none of the political parties in Turkey have completed their institutionalization. The Republican People's Party (CHP) may prove this claim wrong. However, the CHP is not a party by ordinary definition of the word, but is rather a different organism; therefore we could leave it outside of this evaluation. One of the reasons why the leaders of defeated parties never come near resignation is the role of the army in the system. Military coups have prevented political parties to be long lasting and taking root. They dissipated party cadres and deterred citizens who had the potential to join the cadres. It made it difficult for parties to find human resources. Sometimes they even dissolved political cadres under the name of/ in support of other political cadres.

The lack of institutionalization of parties obstructed the creation of an institution culture and democratic code of conduct within parties. Parties became extremely attached and dependent on individuals. As a matter of fact, in some situations parties became identified with individuals, and the withdrawal of individuals from the political scene meant the end of political parties, too.

The regulations imposed on parties have also made it easier for parties to stay in the hands of a few men. Without having permission to have their own sense of organization and structure styles, parties could not discover new ways to make it easier to institutionalize. Party structures emerged as structures which could easily be controlled from the top and the official ideology imposed on parties made them resemble one another. The relevant regulation is inclined towards seeing and showing parties as the branches of a single party, rather than as competing political actors.

The dominant culture in the country maintained and fueled the political culture which shaped parties the way they are now. Many leaders did not complain about this, and on the contrary they liked it. Rather than seeing themselves as the temporary leaders of the parties who should be figures serving the party, they saw parties as their own possession, and that parties can only exist and live on as long as they did. And they saw parties as an entity which had to serve them. They did not think about the permanency of the party, nor think about its existence in the long run; they did not make investments in this respect. They acted with the mindset of “After me, the flood.” They did not allow for a second or third person. They kept around themselves people who were obedient, “yes” men, and those who obtained their position through their close contact with the leader –and who therefore search for their future through adulation rather than those who have strong willpower, and the ability to make decisions and follow them up. They did not spend time or effort creating the party ideas. In conclusion, parties of leaders emerged rather than leaders of parties. Parties transformed into one-man parties, more importantly, one-man clubs. The withdrawal of the party meant the death of the party. This is what happened to political parties such as ANAP, DSP and DYP in the recent past. There are lessons to be learned for all parties which could be taken from the tragedy of these parties.

I suppose all of these explanations partially describe why unsuccessful leaders in Europe resign, whereas leaders who lose in Turkish elections stay in power, almost glued to their seats. However, one thing is for certain: we need more comprehensive explanations based on scientific work, memoirs and observations regarding this matter.


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