Turkey's Shaky Coalition Keeps Islamic Party Out
Refah Party, despite big win, fails to get key role
AFTER two months of wrangling over who would lead Turkey, two center-right parties yesterday agreed to form a coalition government, ending a bid by the Islamic Refah (Welfare) Party to take part in a leadership role.
The deal between Motherland Party leader Mesut Yilmaz and Prime Minister Tansu Ciller, leader of the True Path Party, provides for an unprecedented form of government in Turkey.
The two leaders, putting aside their personal animosity, will take turns in the post of prime minister in what is being called the "Motherpath" administration. Mrs. Ciller, whose party has more parliamentary seats than Motherland, is ceding the post to Mr. Yilmaz for the current year. She will take the job back on Jan. 1, 1997, for a period of two years, then return it to Yilmaz for another year.
Until a week ago, Refah, which emerged as the largest victor in December's parliamentary elections, seemed to be on its way to share power with Motherland.
Refah commands 158 of the 550 seats in parliament, the True Path Party has 135 seats, and the Motherland has 126 seats.
But military leaders and the business community reportedly pressured Ciller and Yilmaz to agree on a government to protect the secular country from what they see as an Islamic threat by the Refah party.
Because Motherland and True Path control 261 seats of parliament, their minority government will need the support of another party.
Bulent Ecevit, leader of the Democratic Left Party (65 seats), has offered some support, saying his party will not vote against the new government when it seeks a vote of confidence in parliament next week. But he says this does not mean that his party will not oppose "any policy of the new government that stands against his views and principles."
Political analysts say the Motherpath government will have a tough time with the opposition, mainly Refah and the Democratic Left. Although those parties differ on secularism, they share similar views on many economic and social issues and foreign affairs.
Refah leader Necmettin Erbakan is furious about the way he has been kept out of power. "This government is an abnormal creature born from a forced marriage," he said. "It cannot survive more than two months."
Many Turks and Western diplomats here seem skeptical about the prospects of success for this government.
"If the new government is unable to stop the aggravation of the political, economic, and social problems and cannot put the country on a sound track, Refah will be the one to benefit and possibly to come to power all by itself in the next elections," wrote the daily Sabah columnist M.A. Birand, reflecting the mood of many analysts.
"Refah cannot be stopped just by keeping it out from a coalition government.... That party will grow stronger if the government fails to meet the people's expectations, which is a very hard task, and this trend cannot be stopped simply by accusing Refah of being pro-fundamentalist and antisecular."
The new government is expected to follow the same pro-Western policy of the outgoing Ciller administration. The post of foreign minister will be allocated to the True Path Party, and the name already mentioned for that job is Emre Gonensay, who has worked as Ciller's chief adviser.
The Motherpath government faces an immense number of issues needing urgent solutions.
Economic problems, including an 80 percent inflation rate, 15 percent unemployment, and large trade and budget deficits, will top the agenda together with rising political violence, the Kurdish separatist movement, and student unrest over the price of education.
The Motherpath government's program provides for basic economic and social reforms, including the speeding up and completion of the privatization of state-owned industries, banks, and services.
The government also will have to deal with the ongoing conflict with Greece over the Aegean islands and the problem of water with its Arab neighbors, mainly Syria.
The term for the American-led Provide Comfort operation to aid Kurds in northern Iraq expires at the end of this month, and the government will have to decide whether to extend it for another six months.
There is strong opposition to the stationing of the force in Turkey, and the Motherland Party has voted against it until now.