TURKEY: Islamists trim policies for coalition

19 January 1996

CONCILIATION and moderation have become the themes adopted by the Refah Party since its 24 December election victory gave it the chance to lead a new coalition government. 'Now the picture is very clear, we have to compromise in a coalition,' Abdullah Gul, the party's vicechairman for foreign relations told MEED on 5 January. Four days later, Refah leader Necmettin Erbakan was invited to form a government, reflecting Refah's position as the largest party in a hung parliament.

The new-found moderation contrasts with radical rhetoric during the election campaign, when Refah said that if the party came to power, Turkey would withdraw from NATO, tear up the EU customs union agreement and abolish interest.

Erbakan now seems anxious to please almost everybody, while claiming the elections unveiled Turkey's true, historical identity. 'A powerful Turkey is arising, which will become a dependable and trustworthy partner for the West and the whole world,' he said at an Ankara press conference on 5 January. But he also warned: 'Before, the West always treated Turkey like a slave - this is going to change.' Through Turkey's continuing participation, Refah would help NATO in its search for a new identity following the collapse of communism, pledged the Islamist leader. 'Some quarters in NATO say its new enemy is Islam,' he said. 'We are going to avoid implanting such ideas, and help the organisation become a new instrument for humanity.' However, he also said the Refah would demand similar dispensations accorded to Jordan by the UN in trading with Iraq, and would also withdraw the present mandate for the use of Turkish bases by the allied force protecting northern Iraqi Kurds from Baghdad.

Nor was Refah fundamentally opposed to an EU customs union starting 1 January, only the unfair entry terms agreed last March , Erbakan said. 'Turkey did not bargain hard enough,' added Gul.

Refah says it would renegotiate terms for agricultural exports, and also the subordination to Brussels of Turkey's foreign policy in its trading relations with third countries. Instead of full EU membership, Refah aims to establish an Islamic union as the first step towards global integration, Erbakan said.

At home, the Refah would solve Turkey's dire economic problems through policies geared to production rather than interest rates, said Erbakan. 'Our solutions are so clear that everyone will agree when we put them forward,' he confidently predicted. However, if other parties had better ideas during coalition forming, then of course Refah would co-operate with them, he said Nor would the pragmatic Refah impose state control, or set about an immediate economic revolution, according to Gul.

'We want to run the country, we don't want to make a mess,' he told MEED.

'Our ideology says a free economy is the natural one.' Refah would gradually introduce an alternative, interest-free and production-oriented system whose success would quickly win converts.

Refah would maintain Turkey's relations with the IMF, but would not accept the conditions previously attached to IMF assistance, said Erbakan. 'The IMF did not save Turkey, but caused the country to go through a debt bottleneck.' As the Turkish state was a continuous body, Refah would honour all external and internal public debts with the proceeds of increased production, Erbakan pledged. The party would not seek to consolidate the treasury's heavy TL 1,200 million million ($24,000 million) internal debt stock, but would meet redemptions on time, added Gul.

Erbakan said Refah also supported privatisation, but would revise the process to make it more productive and rational.

Gul noted that Refah municipal administrations in Ankara and Istanbul had privatised many sectors. 'We are even collecting taxes through private companies in Istanbul,' he said.

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