TURKEY: Confidence vote confinns on Islamist-led coalition

19 July 1996

Parliament on 8 July gave its vote of confidence to the Islamist-led government of Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan. He said the vote marked the beginning of a new era, and congratulated 65 million Turks for at last having a governnient able to address the country's pressing social and economic problems.

But the coalition has a weak majority and may struggle to survive, analysts say. Some 278 MPs voted for and 265 against in the 550-seat house. The partnership of Erbakan's Welfare Party (Refah) and former premier Tansu Ciller's True Path Party (DYP) relied on the seven-strong, ultra-right Grand Union Party (BBP) when 10 prominent DYP dissidents did not support the government.

The dissidents were expected to either leave or be expelled from the party by 12 July.

Some commentators believe Erbakan will seek to please everyone by courting all sides in a transition period of around a year towards early elections, building up Refah's electoral support to secure an outright majority for the party.

Indeed, only a day after the confidence vote, Erbakan announced a 50 per cent pay rise for public sector employees. The additional burden on the budget hardly fits the coalition's central economic objective of combating high inflation, especially when the previous administration's 1996 programme allocated only 23 per cent, economists note.

Apart from pledging a transition from a so-called rentier regime to a productionoriented economy, the coalition's free-market economic platform presented to parliament on 3 July seemed to differ little from previous DYP policies. Analysts say the DYP's hold on key economic portfolios may brake any radical departures sought by the Islamists, whose eventual goal is a no-interest, notaxation and production-oriented economy.

Some Turkish commentators allege the coalition was only formed to stave off parliamentary probes into professional conduct, to which both Ciller and Erbakan have been subject. It is only a matter of months, the analysts argue, before Ciller will renege on her agreement.

Abroad, Erbakan is enjoying a honeymoon period with the West. The coalition's programme broadly promises to maintain Western ties, while developing links with other Islamic countries in the region, and Turkic republics in the former Soviet Union.

That Washington could work with the new government was the initial message from a previously scheduled, but timely visit to Ankara by US state undersecretary Peter Tarnoff shortly after the coalition's formation.

However, the US administration was listening to the rhetoric as well as watching the actions, said a US state department spokesman on 9 July, according to Turkish press reports.

Turkey could naturally expand its relations with other Islamic countries, but should not forego its existing, binding commitments to its Western friends particularly within NATO, the spokesman said

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