TURKEY: Election timing row shakes coalition

20 June 1997

The governing coalition of Islamist and conservative parties has failed to resolve differences over the timing of early elections. There has also been no apparent progress on the related issue of handing over the coalition's helm from Welfare Party (Refah) leader Necmettin Erbakan to True Path Party (DYP) leader Tansu Ciller. The internal wrangling has been accompanied by further signs of impatience from the military establishment, which is bitterly opposed to Erbakan.

The Refah leader has been holding out for November elections at the latest because he is anxious to evade a constitutional court case. Ciller wants December at the earliest, political analysts say.

Ciller on 6 June said she would withdraw the DYP from the government if Erbakan had not handed over the premiership by 18 June. The two leaders announced the proposed transfer along with the elections on 1 June, but Erbakan subsequently laid down three prior conditions: agreement by both parties on early elections, the drafting of an election law, and approval by parliament.

The coalition was further undermined on 9 June by the effective withdrawal by the small, ultra-right Grand Union Party (BBP) of its support for the coalition in parliament. The BBP, which has eight seats, withdrew from negotiations on its participation in an election government after failing to secure agreement by the coalition on lowering the voting threshold. At present, a party needs 10 per cent of the vote to qualify for a seat in parliament; the BBP wants this cut to 5 per cent.

The loss of the BBP's support is a significant blow to the coalition, which has shifted in and out of a one-vote majority in the 550-seat parliament several times recently due to cross-party defections.

As the political debates go on, the military is stepping up its war of words against the Islamist movement, with a series of briefings between 10-12 June for the judiciary, academia and the media. Military leaders have accused Refah of trying to undermine the secular basis of the modern Turkish state.

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