TURKEY: By-election cancellation row

02 December 1994

THE postponement of by-elections for the 22 vacant seats in the 450-member parliament has provoked fierce political infighting between established political parties, and has inflicted a further blow to Prime Minister Tansu Ciller's weak coalition government.

The by-elections, scheduled for 4 December, had to be called off because an update of electoral lists in the troubled southeast necessitated a constitutional court ruling which could not be done in time. The majority of the constituencies to be contested are in the southeast.

The court on 16 November repealed a provision restricting the updating of electoral lists to civil servants in the law brought by Ciller's True Path Party (DYP) for the by-elections. Effectively, this means the lists will have to be updated to take account of considerable migration away from the mainly Kurdish area to escape the violence of the 10-year insurgency by the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK). On 15 November, parliament extended emergency rule in the southeast for another six months, the twenty second such extension in the region since the martial law was lifted there in 1987.

RP gains

The party gaining most from the cancellation is the Islamist Welfare Party (RP), even though it was expected to dominate the by-elections. Cancellation of the by-elections is not necessarily a reversal for the RP, since it may lead to early general elections. Some opinion polls suggest the RP is now the country's most popular party.

For the RP, updating the lists to restore voting rights for Kurds displaced by the insurgency would also increase the probability of a repeat performance of its success in the southeast in the end-March local elections. Voters at the time turned to the party as an alternative to perceived pro-state groupings when the pro-Kurdish Democracy Party (DEP) boycotted the elections claiming state harassment. It was the closure of the DEP and the disqualification of its 13 members in the summer which created most of the vacant parliamentary seats.

To counter the RP's threat, both the DYP and the main opposition Motherland Party were planning to field right-wing candidates with lines of allegiance amongst the Kurdish clan and tribal hierarchy. This would also have undermined the minority, ultra-right Nationalist Moving Party, which is now calling for early general elections in autumn 1995.

Ciller herself has sought to defer the poll. A meeting of parliament's constitutional commission on 22 November was divided equally on the issue, with 10 votes for and against, and one absentee.

'What can the country lose if we hold the by-elections in the spring?' Ciller has asked. An earlier date would not be feasible because of harsh winter conditions in the southeast, and parliament's busy schedule, she says. However, the cancellation has allowed more time for the passage of a fundamental privatisation law, which otherwise might have been deferred until after the poll.

Analysts say the premier may call early general elections by autumn 1995, or even seek to continue in a minority government without the SHP. However, her hand may be forced if the number of vacant parliamentary seats rises above 5 per cent to 23, when by-elections will be mandatory under the constitution.

Strengthen the left

On the other hand, the SHP leader and Deputy Prime Minister Murat Karayalcin has strongly pressed for the by-elections to be rescheduled as soon as possible. He is bidding for parliamentary election for the first time in the constituency of Adiyaman in the southeast. Not being a member of parliament would hamper his ambitions to lead a planned merger of the SHP with another left-wing grouping, the Republican Peoples Party (CHP). This merger seeks to integrate and strengthen the mainstream left in Turkish politics, and restore much of its electoral appeal. The weak and divided SHP has become an electoral handicap to the DYP, and its vote is draining away to other parties, especially the Islamists.

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