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Politics in the 1990s

Encouraged by the results of the municipal council elections, Demirel devoted the next two-and-one-half years to building up his party for the National Assembly elections. His goal was for the True Path Party to win a majority of seats, a victory that would enable him to reclaim the post of prime minister from which he had been ousted so unceremoniously in 1980. zal may have provided unintentional support for Demirel's efforts when he decided at the end of 1989 to be a candidate for president to replace General Evren, whose seven-year term was expiring. Because zal's Motherland Party still controlled a majority of seats in the assembly, his nomination was approved, albeit on the third ballot. However, in accordance with the constitution, zal had to sever his political ties to the Motherland Party upon becoming president. Because he had been so closely identified with the party and because none of its other leaders, including Yildirim Akbulut, who succeeded zal as prime minister in November 1989, had achieved national prominence, zal's departure tended to weaken the Motherland Party politically.

The decline--at least temporarily--of the Motherland Party was demonstrated in the October 1991 National Assembly elections. The party received only 24 percent of the total vote and won only 115 seats. In comparison to four years earlier, these results represented a severe defeat. However, the Motherland Party remained a serious competitor in the political arena, falling only from first to second place in terms of overall parliamentary representation. Whereas the True Path Party emerged from the elections with the largest number of votes and the greatest number of assembly seats, its overall performance--27 percent of the total vote and 178 assembly seats--was less impressive than Demirel had hoped and insufficient to give the party the 226 seats needed for parliamentary control.

For Demirel to become prime minister, it would be necessary for the True Path Party to form a coalition with the Motherland Party--a very unrealistic prospect--or at least one of the three other parties that had obtained 10 percent or more of the total vote and thus qualified for representation in the assembly. The three parties were the SHP, eighty-eight seats; the Welfare Party, sixty-two seats; and the Democratic Left Party, seven seats. In November 1991, Demirel announced a DYP-SHP coalition government, with himself as prime minister and SHP leader Inn as deputy prime minister. Thus, eleven years after being overthrown by the military, Demirel returned as head of government. More significantly, in May 1993 the National Assembly elected Demirel president of the republic following the unexpected death of zal.

The Welfare Party and other parties also perceived the Motherland Party's weakness and shared Demirel's hope of benefiting from it. The Welfare Party built steady support in middle- and lower-class urban neighborhoods by focusing on widespread dissatisfaction with government policies and attributing official abuses of authority to the failure of leaders to adhere to traditional religious values. It had received 10 percent of the total vote in the 1989 municipal council elections and won control of several small town councils. In the October 1991 National Assembly elections, the party obtained 16.9 percent of the total vote and won sixty-two seats. Its base in the assembly provided the Welfare Party with a strong platform from which to criticize the DYP-SHP coalition government, which Welfare Party leaders accused of being as insensitive on issues of social injustice and civil rights abuses as its Motherland predecessor.

In the March 1994 municipal elections, the Welfare Party demonstrated its ability to draw some of the support base of the DYP, whose share of the total vote fell to 22 percent. In contrast, the Welfare Party won 19 percent of the total vote--placing it a very close third after the DYP and the Motherland Party. Its mayoralty candidates won in both Ankara and Istanbul, the country's two most secular cities, as well as in scores of other cities and towns.

In the September 1995 party convention, Deniz Baykal was elected CHP party leader. Baykal and Ciller failed to conclude an agreement to continue the coalition, forcing the government to resign on September 20, which led to a 45-day parliamentary "crisis." President Demirel asked Ciller to try to form a new government. Ciller established a DYP-only minority government in late September but failed to win a vote of confidence. Demirel gave Ciller a second chance to form a government, and she again turned to Baykal. They formed a new DYP-CHP coalition that won a confidence vote on November 5. The two parties cooperated in passing a new election law and set general elections for December.

In the December 1995 elections, three parties emerged with nearly identical electoral support of around 20% each: the Islamic-oriented Welfare Party of Necmettin Erbakan, the moderate center-right Motherland Party of Mesut Yilmaz, and Ciller's moderate center-right True Path Party. The latter two parties represent the secular Turkish mainstream, but as a result of animosity between their two leaders, they were unable to successfully forge a lasting coalition that would have precluded a RP role in government; the ANAP-DYP coalition lasted only a few months. In July 1996, Ciller and Erbakan agreed to form a government in which Erbakan, because his party had garnered more votes, was the senior partner.

The Erbakan government tried to set some new policy directions by "reaching out" to a new group of international partners, challenging the military's political role, and seeking to chip away at secularism. As a result, the military, throughout the spring and late summer of 1997 supported a growing popular movement of business, labor, and community groups to build pressure for the Erbakan government's resignation. In June, Mesut Yilmaz formed a new minority government with Ecevit's Democratic Left Party (DSP) and Cindoruk's Democrat Turkey party.

These three parties governed with 223 of 550 seats in Parliament. This was possible because the Republican People's Party (CHP) under Deniz Baykal supported the coalition without being a part of it. As a requirement of CHP's support, in June 1998 Yilmaz announced that he would resign at the end of the year and hand over power to an "election" government until new elections in April 1999.

President Suleyman Demirel asked Ecevit on January 7 to form a government to succeed that of Prime Minister Yilmaz, which fell on November 25 in response to corruption allegations. Ecevit's government won a vote of confidence on January 17 and ruled until national elections were held on April 18, 1999.

In the April 1999 elections, the Democratic Left Party (DSP) captured 22% of the vote, followed closely by the far right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) which garnered 18%. Together with center-right Motherland Party (ANAP), the three parties forged a coalition with a strong majority of approximately 360 of the 550 seats in Parliament. Ecevit's government won a vote of confidence in Parliament on June 9. Bolstered by its strong parliamentary majority, the 57th government embarked on an ambitious reform program that contained legislative proposals that had been attempted by several previous governments but had never succeeded.

Between June and September 1999, the 57th government successfully enacted legislation that included reform of the country's banking sector and social security system; codified procedures for the submission of foreign investment contracts to international arbitration; removed military officers as judges in State Security Courts; and amended the political parties law to make judicial closure of parties more difficult.





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