politics : culture : economics

State funding for Turkey’s political parties

In Constitution, Democratisation, Electoral system, Turkey on December 16, 2010 at 4:18 pm

This is the first of two posts on political financing in Turkey. In the second, I’ll look at a range of problems relating to the way in which private donations are regulated. First, however, I want to outline the workings of the system that provides (some) Turkish parties with significant sums of public money.

According to Article 69 of Turkey’s constitution, “the state shall provide the political parties with adequate financial means in an equitable manner.” (“Siyasi partilere, Devlet, yeterli düzeyde ve hakça mali yardım yapar.”) The key piece of legislation that fleshes out this principle is the Law on Political Parties (2820), which, unfortunately, compounds democratic deficiencies elsewhere in Turkey’s electoral system by providing funding only to parties that have cleared a national threshold at the most recent general election (albeit a slightly lower threshold than applies to parliamentary representation).

The amounts to be paid to Turkey’s parties each year are calculated as follows.

  • First, two five-thousandths of the state’s general budget revenues are divided between any parties that received at least 10 per cent of votes at the most recent general election (ie, to the parties entitled to take up seats in parliament). This money is distributed among these parties in proportion to the votes they received at the most recent general election.
  • Second, public funding is also provided to any parties that received between 7 and 10 per cent of the votes at the most recent general election. This is provided in proportion (according to votes received) to the sum paid to whichever of the parties above 10 per cent received the least funding.
  • Third, if it is a general election year, the sums provided are multiplied by three; if it is a local election year, they are multiplied by two.

Obviously, this arrangement builds a degree of inertia into the electoral system. Parties that have had recent electoral success are rewarded with funding that makes it easier for them to sustain their success in the future. Conversely, parties that fall below the 7 per cent threshold—new parties, too—are set at a financial disadvantage that makes it relatively harder for them to cross either the funding or parliamentary thresholds in subsequent elections.

If we were talking only about the state providing an element of top-up funding from the central coffers, then perhaps this wouldn’t be too significant a concern. But that’s not what we’re talking about. According to a report by the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) earlier this year (to which I’ll return in my follow-up post on private funding), the three parties currently in receipt of state funding assert that this money amounts to around 90 per cent of their total income. Assuming for the moment that the parties are telling the truth on this point, the arithmetical implications for parties left out of the state-funding loop are stark. They would have to raise ten times as much private money as their publicly funded rivals in order to match them financially.

The table below illustrates the amounts of public money that have been distributed to Turkish political parties since 2007, including the sums to be paid out next year.

State funding for Turkey’s political parties, 2007-2011 (million TL)
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Justice & Development Party (AKP) 141.2 45.7 111.3 52.7 186.5
Republican People’s Party (CHP) 79.9 20.5 49.9 23.6 83.6
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) 34.4 14 34.1 16.2 57.2
True Path Party (DYP/DP) 39.3 0 0 0 0
Young Party (GP) 29.9 0 0 0 0

Source: The 2007-09 figures are from the GRECO’s Evaluation Report on Turkey on Transparency of Party Funding (Theme II). Thanks are due to Bülent Murtezaoğlu for pointing me towards the 2010 and 2011 figures.

In 2007, five parties were in receipt of state money: the two parties with parliamentary representation at the start of that year (AKP and CHP) and another three that had received between 7 and 10 per cent of the vote in the 2002 elections (DYP/DP, MHP and GP). From 2008, public funding for two of these parties (DYP/DP and GP) dries up entirely, reflecting the fact that their support fell below the 7 per cent funding threshold in the 2007 elections. This leaves only the three parties currently in parliament receiving public money. At a time when the inadequacies of Turkey’s parliamentary opposition are a source of mounting concern, this narrowness of the range of parties being funded seems far from ideal.

There’s a separate point about the state funding system that I want to highlight briefly in conclusion. The provision of public money doesn’t only affect the balance or power between Turkey’s various parties. It also has implications for the balance of power within individual parties.

The Turkish state hands over large sums of money each year to the headquarters of whichever parties meet the various thresholds outlined above. This has the inevitable effect of strengthening the parties’ central organs relative to their local branches, members and supporters, thereby bolstering the troubling levels of centralisation that already exist within Turkey’s political parties (which I have touched on before when discussing Turkey’s closed-list electoral system.) As İlter Turan puts it in a recent GMF article:

Ostensibly serving to prevent the domination of political parties by private interests, these grants [of state funding] render parties less dependent on fundraising from supporters, free the national leadership from relying on local party organizations for financial assistance, and also make the latter dependent upon national organs as a source of funds.

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