Clientelistic and Programmatic Strategy Shifts of Political Parties in Developing Democracies – Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi) of Turkey

Kılıçdaroğlu K.

The Journal of the Institute of the Middle East Study, vol.35, no.2, pp.59-114, 2016


This research aims to explain why political parties change their strategies from clientelistic to programmatic (or programmatic to clientelistic) in developing democracies. Clientelistic parties seek to mobilise support through patron-client networks and seek power in order to gain control over state resources. These parties mobilise voters by distributing direct benefits/goods in return for electoral support, whereas programmatic parties generate policy, mobilise support and govern on the basis of a consistent and coherent ideological position (Cheeseman and Paget, 2014). Compared with advanced democracies, in developing democracies it is more likely to see clientelistic parties that lack party cohesiveness, and have weak party discipline; it is also common to see a lack of ideological differences among parties. For instance, during the 1990s the Republican People’s Party (RPP, Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi) was one of the clientelistic parties in Turkey. Party had an ideological ambiguity; it was not clear whether party was social democratic or secular nationalistic. Factions inside the party caused internal fights. Party distributed patronage jobs to party members and voters (Ayata, 2002). However, since early 2000s the RPP has shifted more towards programmatic strategy; by decreasing problematic factionalism, clarifying party ideology, and demising patronage based politics. In light of this, certain questions must be asked: In developing democracies, under what conditions do parties pursue clientelistic or programmatic strategy? In those countries, why do political parties change their strategy from clientelistic to programmatic (or programmatic to clientelistic)? Why has the RPP – once a clientelistic party – shifted towards a programmatic strategy? The goal of this research is to answer these questions. I argue that voters’ demands and parties’ access to state resources affect the changes in party strategy. Voters’ economic conditions can affect whether parties follow a clientelistic or programmatic strategy. Poor, less-educated voters tend to desire pork over policy, whereas well-off, more-educated voters want to see the provision of public goods or policies (Hicken, 2011; Shin, 2015). In less developed areas, parties are more likely to pursue a clientelistic strategy, whereas in more developed areas, parties are more likely to pursue a programmatic strategy. At the same time, access to state resources, parties’ position in the government (being part of the governing coalition or a single governing party and being the opposition party) affect parties’ strategy. In order to answer these questions, I conducted intensive field research in Istanbul, Turkey (2015.10.30-2016.01.12). The findings presented here are mostly drawn from the field research, in-depth interviews and participatory observations. During the field research, I carried out in-depth interviews with legislators, local office leaders and party activists from the RPP. I focused on two districts, namely Kadıköy (more developed area) and Esenler (less developed area) in Istanbul. The field research allowed me to observe socioeconomic differences and party activities between more and less developed areas. I also made a pre-research for the selection of districts. I met party’s other district leaders and activists in Ataşehir, Şişli (more developed) and Sultanbeyli (less developed). I observed similar patterns such as the differences on vote mobilizing strategy and party financing.