Turks Disregard Gender When Voting, Says Prof. Matland


Then the Turkish parliament was sworn in in 1935, it was not quite the same as in previous years. For the first time in the history of the Republic, it was not only men who were taking an oath before the Grand National Assembly. Seventeen women also stood before their colleagues, each swearing to uphold the principles of the Republic. The participation of female candidates in the preceding elections and their entry into parliament, at a time when many women in Europe were not allowed to vote, was like a promise. But it was a promise not kept. In the 70 years after that, the number of female representatives would not increase significantly, remaining below 5 percent.

With the general elections of 2011, 78 women entered parliament, raising the share of female MPs to roughly 14 percent. Nonetheless, political parties tend to view female candidates as a risk -- mistakenly so, suggests Prof. Richard E. Matland, Rigali Chair at Loyola University in Chicago. Presenting the findings of his study on "Women as Political Candidates in Turkey" at Bilkent University on December 14 as part of the Bilkent University Seminar Series on Polity, Society and the World, Prof. Matland said that candidate sex is in fact less likely than other variables to affect voting behavior. Even for religiously observant voters, party affiliation and policy stands are at the top of the list of variables impacting voting decisions.

Prof. Matland's study is based on an experiment that he conducted in 2008 among students at five universities in Turkey. The findings, though, have to be taken with a dose of skepticism. First, students might not be representative of the general electorate in Turkey. Moreover, the fact that four out of the five universities chosen by Prof. Matland were private universities -- Bilgi, Bilkent, Koç and Yeditepe --  might make the results even less applicable to voting behavior of the public at large. Despite Prof. Matland's efforts to elucidate the matter, the question of why women are underrepresented in the Turkish parliament remains as yet unanswered.