The coalition government led by Prime Minister Tansu Ciller is being strained in the run-up to 4 December by-elections by disagreements between its partners. Differences centre on the exchange agreement made in May in which the Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP) agreed to sweeping privatisation in return for the acquiescence of Ciller’s True Path Party (DYP) in a democratisation package.

But the coalition leadership has now run up against substantial opposition from members of parliament (MPs) on both sides. In the democratisation package, SHP deputies want limits on freedom of expression in anti-terrorism legislation to be removed, while the right-wing of the DYP wants to retain restrictions, particularly against allegedly separatist propaganda.

Ciller is reported to be impatient and frustrated. She may choose to end the coalition and seek alternative partners, say observers. With the defection of several SHP MPs to the Democratic Left Party (DSP), the coalition has also technically become a minority government in the 450- seat house. However, the most obvious choice as a new partner, the conservative Motherland Party (ANAP), has made early general elections a condition of any alliance.