Prime Minister Tansu Ciller secured a breakthrough on 23 July gaining an overriding vote in parliament for the liberalisation of the country’s authoritarian constitution. The triumph of 360 votes in the 450-seat house means Ciller is likely to have the distinction of presiding over Turkey’s entry into a customs union with the EU in 1996.

Business and industry welcomed the breakthrough as it lifted a cloud of uncertainty about the future of Ciller’s weak coalition government and appears to bode well for the country’s economic recovery. Trading on the Istanbul stock exchange also boomed in response.

Passed after a month of parliamentary debates, the package will grant wider political freedoms and rights of association for trade unions by scrapping restrictions in the 1982 constitution framed under military rule. Civil servants regain the right to collective bargaining. The voting age threshold has also been lowered to 18 from 21 years.

The package forms part of the human rights and democratisation progress demanded by the EU parliament before it will assent to the customs union in a November vote. The EU parliament’s remaining focus is now on amendments to anti-terrorism legislation and the release of MPs from the pro-Kurdish Democracy Party, jailed after its closure in summer 1994.

However, Ciller will need to overcome the misgivings of the security establishment before she can make such concessions to the Kurds, analysts observe. The main objections to the package were from the conservative Islamist Welfare Party (RP) and the leading opposition party ANAP.

The RP stood firm on its demand for a greater role for religion in state affairs. However, ANAP’s opposition evaporated after it secured procedural concessions on parliamentary voting. Ciller’s position has now been strengthened, and analysts say there is a possibility of her True Path Party (DYP) forging closer links to ANAP.