Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Talking Turkey: Troubled Turkey Getting Seventh Government in Two Years

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Talking Turkey: Troubled Turkey Getting Seventh Government in Two Years

Article excerpt

Talking Turkey: Troubled Turkey Getting Seventh Government in Two Years

By James M. Dorsey

Three months ago secularist Turkey united to block the Islamist Refah (Welfare) Party from coming to power. Today, after having toppled the conservative coalition government of Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz, Refah has been given a second chance with an invitation to form a government from Turkey's president.

"Refah is the largest party of Turkey. Without us nothing can be done," says Abdullah Gul, a senior Refah official. "We have the largest group in parliament."

Mr. Yilmaz tendered his resignation to President Suleyman Demirel on June 6 to pre-empt a Refah-inspired no-confidence vote in parliament which had been scheduled for debate the same day. His resignation came in the wake of a Constitutional Court decision to declare unconstitutional the parliamentary motion of confidence that had brought his minority government to power in March. Acting on a Refah petition, the court said a motion of confidence was only valid if at least half of the deputies present vote in favor of it. Of the 544 deputies present in March, only 257 endorsed Mr. Yilmaz's government.

Mr. Yilmaz's resignation put an end to his three-month old coalition, wracked from its inception by vicious fighting between his Motherland Party (ANAP) and his coalition partner, the True Path Party (DYP) headed by former Prime Minister Tansu Ciller. Skillful maneuvering by Refah exacerbated the differences between the two leaders.

The breakup of the Yilmaz government prolonged the political uncertainty in Turkey, the victim of a political crisis that began last September with the fall of Mrs. Ciller's right-left coalition. The turmoil has since impaired Turkey's ability to deal with a 12-year-old Kurdish rebel insurgency in the southeast of the country, tense relations with neighboring Greece, and severe economic woes.

The efforts by the Islamists of Refah to get into government were boosted on June 3 when they won municipal by-elections in 41 constituencies. Their victory was widely seen as a significant opinion poll. Refah first emerged as Turkey's single largest party from inconclusive general elections last December, but the 158 seats it won in parliament were far from the 276-seat majority needed to form a government.

At the time, pressure from Turkey's business community and the country's staunchly secular military prompted Mr. Yilmaz to break off coalition talks with Refah and form a minority coalition with DYP and Mrs. Ciller.

Today, with Turkey's conservative bloc preoccupied with internecine feuding and incapable of tackling the country's mounting problems, businessmen are reconciling themselves to the thought that Refah will be part of government. "If 1996 has to go down as the year spent on achieving political stability in Turkey, then so be it," says David Edgerly, general manager of Alliance Capital Management (Turkey) Ltd.

Chronic Instability

Chronic instability during the past two years--during which Turkey has had six governments, seven foreign ministers and four central bank governors--has prompted most Turks to loose faith in their country's politicians. "If we believe in democracy, the party that emerged number one from the balloting should be tested in power," says Saki Sabanci, chairman of Haci Omer Sabanci Holding A. …

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