Beyond the Left-Right Cleavages: The Puzzling Stance of Turkish Political Parties on the Refugees

Pelin Gul, University of Toronto

Current scholarship holds that anti-immigrant sentiment is a defining feature of right-wing populism. To build their popular base, Viktor Orban, Donald Trump, and Boris Johnson have relied on xenophobia. This does not explain cases where centrist or leftist parties and politicians have been more anti-immigrant than their right-wing opponents. Addressing this puzzle, I study the extent to which domestic cleavages and identity politics at the international level shape political stances on immigration. The findings contribute to an alternative explanation for how parties shape their political platforms. To make my argument, I examine refugee politics in contemporary Turkey. The main parties in Turkey reverse our theoretical expectations: the right-wing Justice and Development Party (AKP) promotes an expansive refugee policy, whereas its main left-wing opponent, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) has called for a restrictive policy. The empirical analysis mixes primary and secondary data analysis. Specifically, it relies on interviews with supporters of each of these parties in the country’s largest cities (Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir); an analysis of parliamentary records, policy notes, and the public statements by party representatives. The period covered extends from 2015 to 2019 (to include the lead-up and aftermath of the 2015 general elections, the 2018 presidential election, and the 2019 local elections). The main finding is that a party will be more pro-refugee if the ethno-religious identity of those refugees aligns with the identity that the party claims to represent. To explain why centrist or leftist parties can be less favorable to refugees, these findings suggest, the role of domestic ethno-religious cleavages is essential.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 193. Migrant Instability and the Politics of Uncertainty