State Repression, Party Formation, and Democratic Consolidation: Turkey Since the Late Nineteenth Century

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Kimya, Firat, Foreign Affairs - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Waldner, David, AS-Politics (POLI), University of Virginia

One of the major challenges to contemporary global politics is the kind of democratic backsliding that is led by elected executives who seek to undermine electoral and legal constraints on their power. Research on democratic backsliding typically focuses on the rise of populist-authoritarian leaders and far-right parties. This dissertation takes a different approach and examines the role that the historical development of political parties plays in preventing or facilitating democratic backsliding. The literature shows that institutionalized parties create barriers to democratic backsliding by fostering political participation, maintaining stable membership, and generating policy-oriented linkages with voters. However, such parties are not built overnight. We must consult the historical record to understand them. This dissertation project investigates the dynamics of party formation and institutionalization, and what long-lasting consequences these processes have for the durability of democracies.

This dissertation presents a study of party formation and the long-term determinants of unconsolidated democracy in Turkey, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century with the earliest opposition movements. Specifically, it argues that the conditions surrounding the initial growth of the political opposition determine whether countries enter the path of sustainable party-building or the cycle of regime instability. It analyzes the party-building activities of the Young Turks (1889-1908) who established the first organized opposition in the Ottoman Empire, the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). This dissertation reveals that political repression forced the CUP to allocate fewer resources to party-building and concentrate more on defensive strategies. It presents evidence that defensive strategies impede the formation of the mass-mobilizing party and reduce the chances for democratic consolidation in the long run. In Turkey, the defensive party-building became a critical juncture that generated long-lasting regime trajectories by substantially influencing the Young Turk successors, the Kemalists, who established a single-party dictatorial rule during the interwar era. This dissertation theorizes that Turkey’s chronic regime instability results from the repressive institutional legacy of the Ottoman Empire.

This dissertation adopts an empirical strategy that is multi-method in nature, drawing on the strengths of archival research and statistical analysis. This dissertation uses a historically-minded within-case analysis of political repression, party formation, and democratic consolidation to test the research hypothesis. In analyzing the impact of political repression on the party formation, it relies on primary sources made up of more than 1500 documents on repression (spying reports, censorship decisions, and exile decrees) and CUP's territorial expansion (1889-1908) and electoral results (1908-1914). Finally, this dissertation exploits a natural experiment to test the causal effect of political repression on party-building.

This study constitutes a major reassessment of the literature on party formation and adds to broader recent research on democratic consolidation. Studies in this area typically focus on specific types of party-building activities such as recruitment from home constituencies, formation of a popular base, and expansion through locally active branches. In doing so, they fail to see how the party formation confined opportunities for opposition to establish a strong party institution. The narrowness of this inquiry is partly related to a lack of historical insight. By consulting the historical record, this project serves as a much-needed contribution to the literature that largely ignored the legacies of repression. Additionally, this project expands our understanding of how opposition in a traditional, industrially underdeveloped agrarian society-where resources for mass mobilization were mostly absent-established a party organization. Third, this project employs a variety of methodological tools and use qualitative and statistical evidence to support its arguments about the Ottoman Empire that is marked by the scarcity of available data. This dissertation offers a systematic, distilled but comprehensive account of party formation and constitutional governance in the late Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Thus, this project yields substantive theoretical insights beyond cases in Europe and Latin America.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
political repression, democratic consolidation, party formation, party institutionalization, Ottoman Empire, Turkey
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