Coalition feud sinks Turkish government Blow to Turks' EU hopes as PM quits Ciller quits in clash with coalition ally

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The Independent Online
Turkey's coalition government fell yesterday as party politics triumphed once again over the need for sustained policies to persuade the European Parliament to accept Turkey into a customs union with Europe.

The immediate cause of the government's collapse was the almost tangible ambition of Deniz Baykal, overwhelmingly elected last weekend to be the new leader of Turkey's main left-wing Republican People's Party.

During three hours of talks yesterday on renewing his coalition with Prime Minister Tansu Ciller's True Path Party, Mr Baykal resurrected a left-wing demand for the resignation of the Istanbul police chief that he knew right-wingers in Mrs Ciller's party would never accept.

After he left the failed meeting, Mr Baykal revealed his true agenda. "This parliament is finished, this coalition is finished," he said. "We need a new parliament, we need a new start ... immediate general elections."

Mrs Ciller was thus forced to hand in her government's resignation to President Suleyman Demirel, who accepted it and asked the coalition to stay in place until an alternative government could be formed.

Mrs Ciller said she favoured forming what she called a "government of solutions" until elections due later in 1996, indicating that she did not want an early poll. But the arithmetic of Turkey's parliament is not in her favour.

Mrs Ciller's most obvious coalition partner would be the Motherland Party, which shares much of her party's centre-right political philosophy. But the Motherland's long-standing pre-condition has been early elections, and it is unclear to what extent their rival leaderships can work together.

One party that is gloating is the pro-Islamic Welfare Party, which believes it would win any general election after capturing many major town halls in local elections in 1994. Opinion polls, however, suggest that parliamentary elections would be a close race.

The Islamists have lost momentum in recent months and are unlikely to win an outright victory.

Whatever the outcome, the prospect of a new period of political and economic uncertainty sparked off panic selling in the Istanbul Stock Exchange, where the index dropped 5.5 per cent to close just over 43,000, its lowest since April. The Turkish lira also fell slightly.

None of this appeared to ruffle Mrs Ciller, who has become a polished political player in her two years of power. Few will lament the coalition, formed in 1991 by different leaders who never lived up to their exciting promises of reforms to end the bloody Kurdish insurgency or human-rights abuses.

Any new parliament will certainly look very different as newer and younger leaders like Mrs Ciller and Mr Baykal choose new candidates, bearing in mind that nearly a quarter of the electorate will be voting for the first time.

But it remains to be seen whether the European Parliament, due to vote in December on a long-planned 1996 customs union with Turkey, will have the patience to wait for Turkey's bickering politicians catch up with their country's more rapidly developing society.