There was much fanfare in early June when the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) moved into its new headquarters in Ankara district of Sogutozu. The building, 14 storeys of gleaming white marble, stands 400 meters from another occupied by the AKP's main rival, the Republican People's Party (CHP).
The edifices are designed to create the impression that only well-oiled machines can succeed in Turkish politics. But with just over four weeks to go until special parliamentary elections, established parties are facing an unexpected threat. Hundreds of independent candidates have joined the race, and a substantial number of them stands a good chance of infiltrating a political system that many believe to be critically ill.
"Turkey's political system has never tolerated dissenting voices", says Baskin Oran, a professor who is campaigning out of a tiny office in central Istanbul. "But it only takes one voice to turn everything upside down, and we will be more than one."
Most of the flaws in the system date back to 1982, when a military junta pushed through a new constitution cementing its political influence, and thereby hampering the smooth development of civil society.
But it was during the elections in 2002, when just two parties won the 10 percent of the vote needed to gain representation in parliament, that questions really began to be asked. Many analysts blame the comparatively high voter threshold for parliamentary representation for the current artificial polarization of the country into secular and religious wings. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
"The constitution talks about fair representation," says Orhan Miroglu, a senior member of Turkey's main Kurdish party, the Democratic Society Party, or DTP. "Parliament today represents barely half the votes cast."
Miroglu's party was one of the worst affected in 2002: it received 2 million votes 6.2 percent Turkey-wide, and up to 70 percent in some majority-Kurdish districts but that total did not translate into even one parliamentary seat. This time, DTP members are running as independents, and they expect to win at least 20 seats. A left-wing party and an ultra-nationalist party have followed DTP in taking the independent road. So have a series of candidates of the sort Turkey has never seen before.
There are miners, transvestites and religious-minded human rights campaigners. Last week, at a press conference outside Istanbul's best-known brothel, two former state-employed prostitutes announced they were joining the race too, to draw attention to the appalling conditions in which their colleagues work.
"This could not have happened five years ago", Baskin Oran says. "But with the passing of EU reforms, people who before were too frightened to speak out are beginning to make their voices heard." [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Others hope independents will also be an antidote to parties that political analyst Murat Yetkin compares to "feudal states."
You only have to watch a few minutes of parliamentary coverage to see what he means. At party meetings, the only one talking is the leader, often for hours. MPs, meanwhile, applaud, and hope their names will be on the list for upcoming elections.
When many of them found they hadn't been, they got little sympathy from the press. "They said nothing against their leaders' tyranny, but rebelled when their names were crossed out," said a commentary published by the daily Radikal.
"If MPs whose political futures are not trapped between their party leaders' lips begin to speak up fearlessly, it can only be good for democracy", the newspaper's columnist Haluk Sahin argued.
It is too early to predict how successful independent candidates will be. But the signs indicate that the two major parties are nervous, particularly the DTP.
Bitterly divided over secularism, the AKP and CHP cooperated in May to change a constitutional article on independent candidates. On separate pieces in the past, independent candidates' names are now on the same voting slip as party candidates.
It may sound sensible enough. But Esat Canan, a CHP deputy for the Kurdish district of Hakkari, who recently left the party in protest over its increasing nationalism, described the motivation behind the change as "pure cynicism."
"Illiteracy is high in the southeast, particularly among women", he explained. "When voters fill the forms in wrong, their votes can be cancelled."
For Ayhan Bilgen the former head of the conservative human rights group Mazlum-Der, and an independent candidate in the central Anatolian city of Konya the most troubling aspect of the vote was the alacrity with which AKP participated, barely a week after the army had threatened to intervene against it. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. He thinks the legal change is likely to backfire on the parties that pushed it through. Already, he says, people in the southeast are working hard to make sure it doesn't affect independent candidates' chances.
"You never know, literacy levels might even rise as a result," Canan says.
Nicolas Birch specializes in Turkey, Iran and the Middle East.