Republicanism (Turkish: cumhuriyetçilik) in the Kemalist framework replaced the absolute monarchy of the Ottoman dynasty with the rule of law, popular sovereignty and civic virtue, including an emphasis on liberty practiced by citizens. Kemalist republicanism defines a type of constitutional republic, in which representatives of the people are elected, and must govern in accordance with existing constitutional law limiting governmental power over citizens. The head of state and other officials are chosen by election rather than inheriting their positions, and their decisions are subject to judicial review. In defending the change from the Ottoman State, Kemalism asserts that all laws of the Republic of Turkey should be inspired by actual needs here on Earth as a basic tenet of national life. Kemalism advocates a republican system as the best representative of the wishes of the people.

Among the many types of republic, the Kemalist republic is a representative democracy with a Parliament chosen in general elections, a President as head of state elected by Parliament and serving for a limited term, a Prime Minister appointed by the President, and other Ministers appointed by Parliament. The Kemalist President does not have direct executive powers, but has limited veto powers, and the right to contest with referendum. The day-to-day operation of government is the responsibility of the Council of Ministers formed by the Prime Minister and the other Ministers. There is a separation of powers between the executive (President and Council of Ministers), the legislative (Parliament) and the judiciary, in which no one branch of government has authority over another–although parliament is charged with the supervision of the Council of Ministers, which can be compelled to resign by a vote of no-confidence.

The Kemalist republic is a unitary state in which three organs of state govern the nation as a single unit, with one constitutionally created legislature. On some issues, the political power of government is transferred to lower levels, to local elected assemblies represented by mayors, but the central government retains the principal governing role.

Populism (Turkish: halkçılık) is defined as a social revolution aimed to transfer the political power to citizenship. Kemalist populism differs from the Western understanding of the term populism. In Western European culture the construct Populism is a political doctrine where one sides with "the people" against "the elites". In the Ottoman society "the people" (the correct term for the period was "subjects") side (submits) to autocracy (Ottoman dynasty), theocracy (Caliphate) and feudalism (tribal leaders). Kemalism moved the orientation of political power towards the best interest of the "general public" (general public = citizens of the country, common citizens, citizenship).

Kemalist populism is an extension of the Kemalist modernization movement. In Kemalist populism, in the ideal society, individuals (citizens of the Republic) would be able to read religious texts by themselves or have them freely translated. The literacy drive and translation of the Quran (originally in Arabic text) to Turkish, for instance, both occurred very early in Atatürk's reformation. Atatürk stated on a number of occasions that the legitimate rulers of Turkey were common citizens, such as villagers and workers.