Prime Minister Tansu Ciller’s divided coalition government is facing growing pressure for early general elections after a serious setback in parliament. On 6 July, the government was forced to withdraw a liberalisation package for the constitution after failing to muster sufficient votes during three weeks of parliamentary debate.

For the premier herself, the liberalisation package could be the key to presiding over Turkey’s entry into a customs union with the EU in 1996, for which terms of entry were agreed at a March EU foreign ministerial meeting. The EU parliament has made its assent to the union in a forthcoming October vote conditional on progress in democratisation and human rights.

The liberalisation package chiefly seeks to legalise trade unions for civil servants. The government withdrew the package in the face of tough right wing opposition.

This came mainly from the Islamist conservative Welfare Party (RP) and members of the main opposition Motherland Party (ANAP). The RP opposed the package because it did not also seek an amendment abolishing the exclusion of religious figures from state activities. However, while ANAP leader Mesut Yilmaz on Ciller’s request ended an earlier boycott by the party, its rank-and-file members voted against the amendment.

The next day an ANAP member tendered his resignation. Acceptance of this move by parliamentary vote would bring the number of vacant seats to 23, at which point by-elections would be mandatory.

Rather than undergoing such an electoral test, Ciller might instead prefer to seek early general elections, not mandatory until autumn 1996, analysts say.