Youth Participation in Politics in Türkiye: Challenges and Experiences

In this report, where we discuss the experiences of young people in Türkiye politics and obstacles they face, we have interviewed 34 young politicians and analyzed their experiences and challenges in Türkiye politics under three main headings: structural, institutional and cultural challenges.

In the research, the main factor that reduces youth participation in politics and makes politics inaccessible in Turkey has been observed to be the economic burden of politics. Due to the lack of economic capital, young people, among many other social groups, are also disadvantaged in politics. It has been seen that the expectations of the young candidates participating in the interviews from the parties are that the economic burden of politics should be covered by the parties. However, the participants who stated that they did not receive this support additionally noted that they turned to campaigns that would allow them to be accepted by their parties and that the costs were higher than anticipated. Although the reasons for young people’s tendency to show their candidacy for member of parliament through formal elements vary, it has been observed that the patterns imposed by the political institution are basically dominant.

It can also be inferred from the interviews that intra-party competition has economic implications. It appears that young people are forced to incur expenses in order to keep up with their older rivals, especially in the process of moving up the ranks within the party. This situation rapidly destroys the economic capital that young people are already struggling to create. Considering that the young politicians who participated in these interviews have somehow remained within the system, it can be said that the aforementioned difficulties are more challenging for the youth in general.

Previous studies have already demonstrated that the accumulation of social capital is a major factor to appear on the political scene in Türkiye, mostly criticizing party discipline and the lack of democratic systems. However, our interviews have shown that the lack of social capital is effective not only in the headquarters or executive positions but also in local organizations. The existence of individuals who are characterized by the participants as “gatekeepers” and who cause blockages at certain levels in order to secure their own position within the party was underlined. Participants stated that these ” gatekeepers” act at various points within the party, from the level of local organizations to the general level, sometimes disregarding merit in order to protect their own micro spheres of power.

Another aspect of the lack of social capital within parties is “factionalism”. It can be said that young people expect to be promoted through their participation in factions and the support of these factions due to their economic or social capacities. It has been observed that young people working at various levels in parties do not consider the possibility of an alternative promotion scenario. In this context, factionalism, as a clear obstacle before youth representation, is also seen as a reflection of the course of Turkish politics. Stating that the lack of in-party objection mechanisms and limited opportunities for participation in Türkiye push people to form groups and exert pressure through these groups, the participants also underlined that it is not possible for young people to advance unless they are included in these factions.

Resume assessment is another reflection of the expectation of social capital in brand-new parties, where factionalism and traditional political order has not yet been formed. Especially consideration of young people based on their resumes by the recently established parties has led to the emergence of further inequalities in our country where young people do not compete under equal opportunities. Social capital is shaped not only by human relations but also by many factors such as school, friends and family opportunities. When participation in politics is based on resumes, this creates new injustices within politics.

In-party democracy mechanisms such as tendency survey and primary elections do not always enable more representation. Considering the narratives around factionalism and “gatekeepers”, the full democratic environment required for young people to come forward through these mechanisms cannot be provided. These mechanisms create the illusion of a democratic environment and young people are labeled as incompetent when they fail therein. Despite everything, it is important to note that success in tendency surveys and primary elections empowered young people and gave them space within the party.

The distinction between being a young politician and being a politician of young people is seen as one of the most significant dilemmas of youth representation. In this dilemma, debates have centered on whether a broader form of representation is possible or whether young people are condemned to a limited space.

Some participants stated that quota practices open up a space for representation on behalf of young people, but that this space also narrows down the competition among young people to the quota. They also stated that in order to secure the quota, young people are more inclined to exhibit attitudes and behaviors that are pleasing to older politicians, thus rendering the quota meaningless.

These main topics are discussed in detail in the research report and supported by the comments of the participants. Furthermore, the “paying the price” narrative developed by older politicians within the party, the effects of in-party blockages on youth representation and the relative advantages of parties for young people are also discussed in detail.

Türkiye’de Gençlerin Siyasete Katılımı: Engeller ve Deneyimler
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