The new leader of the Republican Peoples Party (CHP), the junior partner in the ruling coalition, has pledged to continue working with Prime Minister Tansu Ciller’s True Path Party. However, Deniz Baykal, the new chairman, said the CHP would seek early general elections.

Baykal, elected at a CHP convention on 10 September, said the coalition was not a matter of discussion between the two parties, according to the semi-official Anatolian news agency. But he also said he wants to conclude a secret protocol with Ciller to ensure an equitable balance in government.

The new CHP chairman is expected to be far more assertive within the coalition than his predecessor, Hikmet Cetin. Cetin was a compromise leader agreed by Baykal and former deputy premier Murat Karayalcin at a February merger of the former Social Democrat Populist Party (SHP) with the CHP under the latter’s banner. Baykal defeated Karayalcin by 630 votes to 309 at the convention; Cetin did not stand for re-election.

Like Ciller, Baykal strongly supports closer integration into the EU through a customs union next year. But he could clash with the premier in other sensitive areas of policy, notably in a more vigorous defence of workers’ rights, analysts say.

Baykal had pledged to take up the workers’ cause, according to Bayram Meral, the head of the main trades union confederation, Turk-Is, on 11 September. A strike over pay by 32,500 workers in the state sugar sector scheduled by Turk-Is may provide an indication of Baykal’s commitment, say analysts.

The new CHP leader is a veteran of 26 years in left-wing Turkish politics, and bid unsuccessfully several times for the leadership of the SHP in the first half of the 1990s. In 1992, he led a splinter away from the SHP to re-establish the CHP, after the lifting of a ban on political parties formed prior to the 1980 military coup. Created in 1924 by the republic’s founder, the CHP had evolved to become the main left-wing grouping prior to the coup.

One of Baykal’s first tasks after his election will be a reshuffle of CHP ministers in the coalition cabinet, expected in the week ending 15 September. However, his primary challenge will be to rebuild unity within the CHP, and also its electoral base.

Over the past two years the CHP has lost ground to the Islamist conservative Welfare Party (RP). Latest opinion polls suggest that the CHP might even take less than 10 per cent of the vote in a general election.