Can New Government Re-Open Door to Prosperity?
Martin, Josh, The Middle East
Turkey's new coalition government has eased some fears of an Islamic government rising on Europe's doorstep. But the government formed by an alliance of the Motherland and True Path parties faces difficult economic and political challenges.
On 6 March, after almost three months of political horse trading, Turkey got a new government. Some have called it a "government of egos"; a Turkish diplomat described it as a "government of experts." In fact, it is an unusual coalition of conservative and left wing secular parties, united in their quest for power, and by their shared determination to keep politics a secular activity.
The results of the December 1995 elections left no single party controlling a majority in the 550-seat parliament. But the Islamist Welfare (Refah) Party emerged as the largest, with 158 seats, and was thus the first called on by President Demirel to try to form a new government. That it could not do so is a clear sign that Turks want to keep in place the secular political system set up by Kemal Ataturk.
Wrangling among the next two largest parties in the government - the True Path (DYP) Party of former Prime Minister Tansu Ciller (135 seats), and the Motherland (ANAP) Party originally formed by Turgut Ozal (133 seats) - delayed formation of a coalition. Two smaller parties - former Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's Democratic Left (75 seats), and the People's Republican Party (49 seats) - were quickly seen as the key to forming a government.
The coalition that has emerged is an official amalgamation of the ANAP and DYP, with the Democratic Left supporting the government, giving it a comfortable 67-seat majority. The new government is expected to put to rest fears both within Turkey and in Europe and the US, that the Islamist Welfare (Refah) Party would turn the country away from the secular path it has followed for over 70 years. But the hiatus between the elections in December 1995, and the formation of a government commanding a majority in the parliament, indicates just how divided Turkish politicians are about almost everything else.
The government faces a formidable task. Turkey is paying the economic price for the boom years it enjoyed under Turgut Ozal in the early and mid-1980s. It has been staggered by massive deficit spending, stubbornly high unemployment, a collapsed currency, and double and triple-digit inflation. Cuts in social spending to balance the budget are sure to swell the ranks of the Refah Party, which is sure to keep the pressure on.
The government will need to show that it can bring the country's triple-digit inflation under control, and reverse the economic tailspin that saw the nation's nominal GNP crash from $180 billion in 1993 to less than $130 billion last year.
The support of Ecevit's Democratic Left will be bought by taking a hard line on Cyprus, and by encouraging economic development of his political base in South East Anatolia. Although Ecevit is opposed to privatization, he wants oil pipelines shipping Iraqi crude to Turkish ports to be reopened and expanded. Facing this choice, he is expected to choose pipelines over a paternalistic state.
The new government is pledged to continue to develop closer relations with the European Union, which it aspires to join, and to continue the domestic economic reforms originally launched by the late prime minister and president Turgut Ozal. These include a continuation of the privatization programmes, encouragement of foreign investment, and further development of the private sector.
"This government sends a clear statement supporting a continuation of the privatization programme launched by Ozal," a Turkish diplomat in New York said. "This is a pro-free trade government. …