A sword hangs over Turkey's coalition takes uncertain steps

HUGH POPE

Istanbul

Five months of political uncertainty ended in Turkey yesterday when parliament accepted the programme of a new centre-right coalition cabinet led by Mesut Yilmaz.

In the shifting sands of Turkish politics, however, one uncertainty was only replaced by another. The 257-207 vote in Ankara underlined the fact that this is a minority government, over which 80 abstentions hang like a sword that could cut short its life at any time.

Most of these abstentions are controlled by the veteran Democratic Left Party leader, Bulent Ecevit, who says he is helping the centre-right to power purely because he wants to keep out the pro-Islamic Welfare Party. The pro-Islamists came top with 158 deputies in general elections in December.

Mr Ecevit has already exerted pressure on the uninspiring five-year government programme hurriedly put together by Mr Yilmaz's Motherland Party and his coalition partners, the True Path Party of the outgoing Prime Minister, Tansu Ciller.

He forced the new government, minutes before its programme was to be read out to parliament, to omit a promise to "privatise" the three main social security agencies, crippled by political shenanigans and officially due to run up a deficit of more than pounds 2bn this year.

Mr Ecevit and his right-hand man Mumtaz Soysal are now also in a strong position to keep up the legal and political challenges that have hamstrung Turkey's efforts to privatise loss-making state industries for most of the past decade.

Nevertheless, the coalition protocol is full of worthy vows to privatise public-sector companies and banks, to bring inflation running at 80 per cent down to single figures, to widen the tax base, to freeze government hiring, to move to eight years of compulsory education, to devolve more powers to local government and to pursue full membership of the European Union.

An early test is likely to be the need before 31 March for parliament to renew Operation Provide Comfort II, the Allied 80-plane force, including Royal Air Force Jaguars, which protects the Kurds of northern Iraq.

Western diplomats believe that the force's mandate will be renewed pending a government promise to review its operational parameters. Turkish diplomats see it as the backbone of a policy that must above all protect Turkey from another 1991-style influx of Kurdish refugees. But Mr Ecevit believes that the force is nurturing the seed of an independent Kurdistan that could spread to south-eastern Turkey.

This fear of the Kurds also runs through the government's pusillanimous policy on the 11-year conflict between Kurdish rebel guerrillas and the security forces that has killed 20,000 people. Reflecting the largely right-wing, conservative flavour of the Cabinet, the programme only speaks of "stopping terrorism" and "economic and social measures", talk that has done little to convert Turkey's expensively gained recent military advantage into a lasting peace.

During the parliamentary debate, the new Prime Minister gave an uncharacteristically passionate speech, apologising to the Turkish Kurd author Yashar Kemal and promising to change laws that resulted in a court handing down a 20- month suspended jail sentence for one of his articles.

But the claps from the government benches were decidedly lukewarm, as was the response to Mr Yilmaz's additional apology for the way the Ankara police attacked a peaceful demonstration of teachers seeking union rights.

"At first it seems there is nothing missing from this programme. But there is something that has not been given enough importance . . . democracy," the left-wing newspaper Cumhuriyet said.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?