VETERAN Islamist leader Necmettin Erbakan on 28 June took the helm of a coalition dominated by his conservative Welfare Party (Refah), ending a nine-month political vacuum with a strong majority government.
If it survives, the coalition with former premier Tansu Ciller’s True Path Party (DYP) could be a turning point in the republic’s secular. 73-year history.
But the coalition has to face a vote of confidence on 8 July in parliament, as Ciller attempts to prevent DYP defections to the Motherland Party (ANAP), led by former premier Mesut Yilmaz. The collapse of the short-lived ANAP-DYP coalition in early June opened the way for Refah. the largest grouping in the end-December elections.
Beyond the confidence vote, however, the coalition’s rather vague founding protocol sought to assuage fears of the Islamists’ intentions, particularly among the military, self-perceived defenders of the republic’s secular foundations.
Though Erbakan insisted on the premiership. Ciller secured a combined Deputy Premiership and Foreign Affairs Ministry for herself. In a cabinet weighted marginally towards Refah, the DYP also obtained the Interior, Defence and Education portfolios.
Liberals rather than radicals were appointed to Refah’s ministerial share. The cabinet division of spoils also gives the DYP a strong voice in economic direction.
Braked by the DYP, the islamists also moderated policy objectives, as they had done after the December elections, though without giving too much away. Presenting the protocol’s outlines on 29 June, Erbakan said Turkey would maintain close links with the West, but would increase its ties with the rest of the Islamic world. However, the premier, to Ciller’s reported dismay, held back from a renewed commitment to Turkey’s full EU membership application.
Previously, the Islamists had vowed to reverse constitutional secularism, renegotiate the EU customs union, abrogate a military training pact with Israel, and promised an interest-free, production-oriented economy.
In outline at least, the government’s economic objectives seem little different from the free-market outlook of previous centre-right dominated coalitions in the 1990s, although stressing a transition from a so-called rentier regime to a productionoriented economy.
The protocol aims to cut inflation and achieve a steady growth rate. It also pledges the continuation of liberal policies to attract foreign capital and an acceleration of privatisation; infrastructure investment, notably in nuclear power to avert energy shortfalls; and abroad, and aims to protect Turkey’s interests in the EU customs union.
Absent. at least on the surface, are Refah’s more radical intentions of taxing wealth instead of income, banking restructuring towards profit-sharing rather than interest, public offerings rather than block sales in privatisation, and replacing full lira convertibility with a fixed exchange rate mechanism.
Analysts say the Islamists still have to prove they can solve Turkey’s economic problems. All this will depend on how long Refah can hold on to power – if it survives the confidence vote. Ciller’s com-mitment to the Islamists remains very much in doubt.
Critics believe she threw in her lot with Erbakan hoping the coalition would halt parliamentary corruption probes against her -originally initiated by the Islamists. Once the probes are out of the way, Ciller may decide the partnership with the Islamists has served its purpose, the critics warn.
The US reacted to news of Erbakan’s appointment by saying it could do business with him across a broad array of mutual interests, a US state department spokesman said. This message was reinforced in a highlevel mission to Ankara led by US Undersecretary of State Peter Tarnoff and Defence Assistant Undersecretary Jan Lodal.
In the Middle East, Syria and Iran welcomed Refah’s ascension. Damascus hoped it would lead to an improvement in traditionally cold relations.
GOVERMENT OF TURKEY (announced 28 June 1996)
Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan (Refah)
CABINET Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Tansu Ciller (DYP) Justice Sevket Kazan (Refah) Defence Turhan Tayan (DYP) Interior Mehmet Agar (DYP) Finance Abdullatif Sener (Refah) Education Mehmet Saglam (DYP) Pubic Works & Housing Cevat Ayhan (Refah) Health Yildirim Aktuna (DYP) Transport & Conununicatlons Omer Barutcu (DYP) Agriculture & Rural Affairs Musa Demirci (Refah) Labour & Social Security Necati Celik (Refah) Industry & Trade Yalim Erez (DYP) Energy & Natural Resources Recai Kutan (Refah) Culture Ismail Kahraman (Refah) Tourism Bahattin Yucel (DYP) Forestry Halit Dagli (DYP) Environment Ziyaettin Tokar (Refah).
MINISTERS OF STATE Fehim Adak (Refah) Nevzat Errcan (DYP) Abdullah Gul (Refah) Isilay Saygin (DYP) Sabri Tekir (Refah) Nafiz Kurt (DYP) Mehmet Altinsoy (Refah) Nemak Kemal Zeybek (DYP) Lutfu Esengul (Refah) Salim Ensarioglu (DYP) Ahmet Cemil Tunc (Refah) Bekir Aksoy (DYP) Gurcan Dagdas (Refah) Ufuk Soylemez (DYP) Teoman Riza Guneri (Refah) Ayfer Yilmaz (DYP) Sacit Gunbey (Refah) Ahmet Demircan (Refah) Bahattin Seker (DYP).