TURKEY: Erbakan fights on

09 May 1997

PRIME Minister Necmettin Erbakan is fighting a desperate battle to hold onto office in the face of increasing pressure from the military. He said on 29 April that an early general election was a possibility, but that his Islamist-led coalition remains the only choice for the country. He was speaking after a tough meeting with military leaders on 26 April.

At a National Security Council (NSC) meeting, the coalition pledged to speed up implementation of curbs demanded by the military on Islamist assertiveness. But Islamic activists in Erbakan's Welfare Party (Refah) remain solidly against the measure, particularly regarding Islamic education.

Tolerance for Islamic fundamentalism and Kurdish separatist terrorism was tantamount to the state committing suicide, said a senior officer at a military press briefing on 29 April. The military now sees threats from within, rather than external forces, as its main defence priority, he added.

Analysts say measures on which the coalition has failed to make progress include:

enforcement of eight years of elementary state education, which would limit the influence of Islamist schools

closure of unauthorised Quran schools, and action against tarikats or Muslim brotherhoods

a halt to employment by Refah municipalities of soldiers expelled from the military for alleged Islamist activities

enforcement of dress codes excluding Islamic attire

restrictions on sales of pump-action shotguns, reportedly being purchased by Islamic militants

countering alleged support by Iran for terrorism

President Suleyman Demirel has repeatedly said fresh general elections seem the only solution to the political impasse in a hung parliament, although he has also complained he lacks the constitutional powers to call them, the observers note. But even without pressure from the military, the coalition may soon fall apart from internal dissension, analysts say.

An important faction of dissidents within Refah's minority partner, the True Path Party (DYP), chaired by Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister Tansu Ciller, seemed likely to press for an end to the coalition at a DYP parliamentary group meeting on 1 May. The faction is led by former trade and industry minister Yalim Erez, one of two leading DYP ministers who resigned on 26 April in protest at the coalition's direction. The government could also be called upon to resign by a dissident faction within Refah itself led by party vice-chairman Adnan Menderes, according to local press reports.

Former prime minister Bulent Ecevit, leader of the opposition Democratic Left Party (DSP) began a search for an alternative government in meetings with other party leaders on 29 April. After talks with another former prime minister, Mesut Yilmaz, chairman of the main opposition, conservative Motherland Party (ANAP), the two leaders called for a new government excluding the Islamists.

A new coalition between the DYP, ANAP and the DSP would present the best solution, said Deniz Baykal, leader of another opposition left-wing grouping, the Republican Peoples Party (CHP), on the same day, although he ruled out CHP participation in any such partnership.

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