The Islamist-led coalition government survived a parliamentary vote on 20 May by 271 votes against 265 on whether or not to hold a censure debate sought by opposition parties. The vote meant the government, led by Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, did not have to face a confidence vote scheduled for 24 May.

Opposition parties called for the censure debate on 16 May, in a motion alleging the Islamist Welfare Party (Refah) and True Path Party (DYP) coalition was endangering the country by inciting enmity between secular and non-secular groupings.

The vote was swayed by support for the government from the small, right- wing Grand Union Party (BBP). Without the BBP’s seven seats, the coalition with its combined 280 seats has a majority of only five votes in the 550- member house.

The vote also followed efforts by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Tansu Ciller – DYP leader – to whip in DYP dissidents with the coalition’s Islamist direction. Ciller told wavering DYP deputies she had demanded the premiership from Erbakan by 15 June to prepare for general elections, according to local press reports on 21 May.

Ciller reportedly claimed a secret protocol signed with Erbakan at the formation of the coalition in June 1996 provided that she should head the coalition into general elections. She also told the deputies that the earliest elections could be held is 28 December, and the latest March 1998, the reports said.

Ciller threatened she would sunder the coalition if she was not premier by 16 June, adding that Erbakan should give her the premiership in order to placate the military, the reports said.

However, on 21 May the press also reported Erbakan as telling members of Refah after the vote that there will be no elections until 2000, when the coalition’s five-year term ends constitutionally.

Leading figures in the main opposition Motherland Party (ANAP), led by former premier Mesut Yilmaz, said after the vote that the opposition will continue

to lodge no-confidence motions.

Refah also came under fire on 21 May from the prosecutor general Vural Savas. He filed a case in the constitutional court seeking Refah’s closure because it has allegedly become the focus of anti-secular activities. Savas said his office had proof that Refah was leading the country into civil war. Refah has already denied the allegations, claiming it has always worked within the framework of the constitution. The case will take about six months to resolve, observers say.