TURKEY: Government survives to fight another day

07 March 1997

The Islamist-led, coalition government headed by Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan survived a parliamentary censure debate by 281 votes to 246 on 25 February. The combined vote was on two censure motions brought by left-wing opposition parties accusing the coalition of endangering the secular nature of the state.

But relations are at a low ebb between the military establishment, seen as defenders of the republic's secular principles, and Erbakan and the Welfare Party (Refah) he leads. The military was expected to express its strong disapproval of Erbakan's Islamist initiatives, particularly in overtures to Iran, at a meeting of the National Security Council on 28 February.

The censure motions themselves were lodged by the Democratic Left Party (DSP) and the Republican Peoples Party (CHP) following a late January call for the implementation of Sharia (Islamic law) by the Refah mayor of Sincan, a small town near Ankara, with the support of Iran's ambassador (MEED 14:2:97). The mayor was subsequently arrested and tanks and military vehicles rolled through Sincan's streets afterwards in what was viewed as a blunt message from the military to Erbakan.

Leading military figures, including deputy chief-of-staff General Cevik Bir while on a visit to the US, have also stressed the military's duty to defend secularism and democracy. At the last day of an American-Turkish Council annual convention on

22 February in Washington, Bir alleged Iran supported the Kurdish Workers Party, who are waging a 12-year insurgency in the southeast of the country. Tehran on the following day officially denied the accusation.

Military head, General Ismail Hakki Karadayi, also brushed Erbakan aside with a four-day official visit to Israel on

24 February - the first by a Turkish chief-of-staff. Condemning the visit, Tehran said it would be forced to seek closer relations with Damascus, traditionally hostile to Ankara.

Turkey's President Demirel, in interviews with leading mass dailies on 24 February, also warned against Islamist initiatives, and maintained the country's secularism and Western orientation were inviolable. However, at the same time he also warned the military against another coup bid, after three interventions in the past four decades, the last in 1980.

The coalition is also tarnished by recent corruption probes and revelations of collusion by state security forces and organised crime bosses in a secret war against separatist Kurdish rebels, press commentators say. At question in both, has been the role of Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Tansu Ciller, leader of the True Path Party (DYP), Refah's minority coalition partner.

Even millions of ordinary and mostly secularist Turks countrywide vent their scorn every night on the government, by banging pots and flashing houselights for one minute at 21.00 hours in a protest demanding cleaner government.

Clinging on to power, Erbakan has done little to bring the truth to light, the commentators claim. Indeed, the Islamists recently carried three parliamentary votes against probes involving Ciller, and sought originally by Refah figures in spring 1996

to bring down her previous coalition (MEED 28:2:97).

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