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Turkish voters reject military-backed party, asking quick return to democracy

Turkey is entering a critical political period following the victory in Sunday's elections of the conservative Motherland Party led by Turgut Ozal, for whom the country's military rulers are known to have little sympathy.

The defeat of the center-right Nationalist Democracy Party of former Gen. Turgut Sunalp is considered a serious rebuff for President Kenan Evren and the military council that has ruled Turkey for three years.

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As the military are preparing to hand over power to civilians, the outcome of the vote has raised questions as to whether, Turgut Ozal will be able to take office after all.

But most observers here rule out the possibility that Evren would veto Ozal or take any similar blunt move that would disregard the outcome of the elections. Such intervention, although authorized by the present Constitution, could provoke unpleasant reactions in Turkey and abroad.

Ozal's party has won the majority of the 400 seats in the one-house parliament, according to unofficial returns Monday. The party of his main rival, Turgut Sunalp, came in third in the the race. Necdet Calp's moderate left Populist Party did surprisingly well, taking the second position in parliament.

Turks were well aware that the military leaders preferred Sunalp's Nationalist Democracy Party as their successor. Last Friday Evren, in an unexpected move described by many observers as a grave error, urged in a televised speech that people vote for Sunalp's party and discredited Ozal publicly, without giving names. Even that last-minute intervention by Evren, whose popularity in the country is not disputed, did not change the minds of the voters.

But observers here emphasize that it would be wrong to take the result of the elections as a protest vote against Evren's rule or as a challenge to his popularity. Qualified analysts see these reasons behind Ozal's success and Sunalp's failure:

* Ozal was a well-known politician, a good speaker, and a charismatic figure. Turgut Sunalp, a newcomer in politics, lacked those qualities.

* Ozal presented an ambitious program for economic and social changes and explained how he would achieve them. Sunalp concentrated on the preservation of law and order.

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* Ozal appealed to various sections of the people by describing his party as conservative (on traditions, religion, and human values), liberal (on the economy), and progressive (on social justice). He garnered the votes of the supporters of various parties that were barred from participating in the elections. Sunalp failed to obtain the massive support Evren received last year in the referendum on the new Constitution.

The military rulers are disappointed and dismayed at the election outcome. They had expected Sunalp to come to power, and the process of transition from military regime to parliamentary democracy to be easy and smooth.

The question is whether Ozal's victory will make this process more difficult.

Many observers believe it will.

''If as the future prime minister, Ozal would act the way he has been talking in the campaign and put his ideas into practice, serious differences will emerge between him and President Evren, and the four generals who will form the 'presidential council,' '' an analyst said. ''After all, such differences emerged between Ozal and the military before, which resulted in Ozal's resignation last year from his post of deputy prime minister.''

Ozal's leaning to monetarism and to Islamic fundamentalism are often cited as major differences between him and the military, who find him arrogant about his past success in restoring the economy.

Monitor contributor Alexander MacLeod reports from Ankara:

The Motherland Party's win does not necessarily mean Turgut Ozal will be able to mount a direct challenge to the generals in the new parliament. President Evren retains executive power over a wide range of Turkish life and could conceivably try to squeeze Ozal to the margin of politics.

On the other hand, Ozal, who is credited with putting Turkey's economy back on track in the period 1980 to 1982, has emerged as a popular figure with an impressive mandate from the voters.

Tension between Ozal and the generals appears certain. Even so, unless they are prepared to ignore the result of the election they themselves devised, the military leaders seem likely to have to recognize that they must make a commitment to a full return to democracy before the next general election in five years.

Many observers here point to the seeming paradox of Ozal's victory at the polls. On the one hand, most Turks believed the 1980 Army takeover was necessary and justified. On the other, they decided to send a clear signal to Evren that their country is essentially democratic.

Evren originally conceived the next four or five years as a transition phase during which the roots of democracy could slowly reestablish themselves in Turkish political soil. Instead, Turks have shown that the roots are already very much alive.

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