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Turkey: Government's Fall Augurs Uncertain Future

Prague, 26 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The no-confidence vote yesterday (Nov. 25) in Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz's nearly 17-month-old minority coalition government came as no surprise.

But it is anybody's guess what sort of coalition will replace the outgoing partnership of the Motherland Party and its leftist allies and now take the country to early elections.

Yilmaz's government is the fifth Turkish government to collapse since 1995.

Elections had originally been scheduled for 2000. But under pressure from a political rival, Yilmaz agreed in June to resign at the end of this year to enable a new government to take the country to early elections next April 18.

Yilmaz's departure was hastened this week as opponents in three parties called for his immediate ouster over allegations of corruption. A majority of lawmakers voted in open balloting yesterday in favor of censuring the 55th government of the 75-year-old Turkish Republic.

The lawmakers also censured the state minister responsible for economics, Gunes Taner, over accusations he had close links with organized crime during privatization bidding.

Earlier this week, Yilmaz looked like he was already preparing the ground to launch a new coalition after the no-confidence vote by striking a deal with his arch enemy, Tansu Ciller, leader of the opposition True Path Party (DYP).

MPs from Yilmaz's Motherland Party (ANAP) and True Path Party cooperated in parliamentary commissions on Monday to clear both Yilmaz of the banking scandal allegations and Ciller of longstanding accusations that she has acquired assets unlawfully.

What the Turkish press now refers to as a "whitewash operation" led to speculation that a deal was in the making for a new, three-party coalition government between the arch center-right rivals Yilmaz and Ciller, possibly to be led by Bulent Ecevit, who heads one of the current junior coalition partners, the Democratic Left Party (DSP).

But those prospects dimmed as Ciller, in an apparent bid to boost her bargaining power, suddenly did an about-face on Wednesday and instructed her MPs not to speak with Yilmaz's ANAP. The daily Yeni Yuzil had quoted Ciller as saying "either I will be prime minister or I will choose the new prime minister." Yilmaz is opposed to serving in a coalition under Ciller.

Meanwhile, Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal has thrown his weight behind a Yilmaz-Ciller coalition, saying those who have cleared each other -- Ciller and Yilmaz -- should form the new government. Baykal's CHP initially backed the Yilmaz government. However, it turned on Yilmaz in June forcing it to agree to early elections. The partly co-sponsored this weeks no-confidence motion with True Path and the Islamist Virtue Party.

During the parliamentary debate in advance of the no-confidence vote, Yilmaz defended his actions in the privatization of Turkbank. He insisted that the results were transparent; that the state did not incur any losses; and that the Mafia was prevented from getting involved in the sale. Yilmaz conceded that "certain things may have been overlooked accidentally", but added he had acted in good faith. Other possible scenarios for a new government include a cabinet without the participation of party leaders or else a coalition between Motherland and Ecevit's leftists with the support of the country's largest party, the Islamist-oriented Virtue Party (FP). That however, would require concessions by Motherland, including a deal to protect Istanbul's Islamist mayor, Tayyip Erdogan from being imprisoned. Earlier this year, a court found the mayor guilty of incitement by emphasizing religious differences.

President Suleyman Demirel, who has begun separate talks with the leaders of all the parliamentary parties, could also ask Virtue's leader Recai Kutan to try to form a government since Virtue is the largest party. It succeeded the Islamist Welfare Party after it was banned. However, Turkish commentators doubt Virtue could succeed in forming a government within 45 days as required by the constitution. Nevertheless, the Turkish press reports today that former Welfare leader Necmettin Erbakan, who is banned from politics, has persuaded Virtue leaders to hold discreet talks with other parties, starting with Motherland.

The Turkish Daily News says that among the conditions set by Erbakan in talks yesterday with Motherland were the removal of the ban on wearing head scarves in offices and an easing of the restrictions on religious high schools. Yilmaz said these two conditions were too difficult to comply with.

President Demirel last night accepted Yilmaz's resignation and requested the government continue its duties until a new cabinet is formed. The president also met Virtue's Kutan last night and is meeting today with Ciller, Baykal and Ecevit, and with the remaining party leaders tomorrow. Yilmaz, in an apparent bid to forestall anyone else taking over the government before the April elections, is now suggesting that the election date be moved up by two and a half months to Feb. 7.

Whatever government succeeds Yilmaz will face a number of inter-related crises -- Turkey's doomed demand for Italy to extradite the leader of the insurgent Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan; the status of Turkey's Kurdish minority; and Ankara's difficult relationship with the European Union, which has been exacerbated by Turkey's suppression of the PKK and its forced resettlement of Kurds in southeastern Anatolia. Parliament late Tuesday extended emergency rule in six southeastern provinces for four more months. Interior Minister Kutlu Aktas told MPs the government's ultimate goal is to lift emergency rule for good. He said the PKK has been steadily losing influence in the southeast since Ocalan was forced to leave Syria. All parties, except for Baykal's Republicans, voted in favor of the extension.