Islamic leader takes the reins in Turkey

Hugh Pope in Istanbul reports on the achievement of 'a sort of stability' in a country grown used to political chaos

The maverick pro-Islamic leader Necmettin Erbakan took power at the head of a new coalition government in Turkey yesterday, signalling an era likely to further dilute the strident Westernising secularism with which Kemal Ataturk founded the republic seven decades ago.

"Peace be with you. I have good news: a new government," a beaming Prime Minister Erbakan said after President Suleyman Demirel approved his Cabinet.

Erbakan has opposed most things that defined the Turkey after World War Two: Nato membership, a customs union with Europe, balanced ties between Israel and the Arab states and a mission to Westernise this Islamic nation of 65 million people.

Yet even Turkish secularists are doing little more than tut-tutting Erbakan's slow march to power. Since Turkey's last real government collapsed nine months ago, public opinion has become punch-drunk with unprincipled politicking, revelations of public corruption and a new upsurge in nationalist sentiment on both sides of the Kurdish conflict.

"People have cried wolf so often we have become immune to panic. There has been so much chaos, any sort of stability is welcome," said one diplomat in the Turkish capital, Ankara.

Most Turks know the Welfare Party does not bear much comparison to the fundamentalism of Saudi Arabia or the ideological ruthlessness of Iran. Neither is there a sense that the its agenda is revolutionary, since the supposedly 'secular' Turkish republican system has gone a long way in the past decade towards a new synthesis with its Islamic and Ottoman past.

Mr Erbakan has already signalled that he will compromise on some foreign policy issues and has said he might sacrifice his opposition to a customs union with Europe and the 'Operation Provide Comfort' force protecting the Kurds of northern Iraq.

The Welfare Party's room for manoeuvre is also limited because it only polled 21 per cent of the vote when it came top of general elections last December, giving it just 158 of the 550 parliamentary seats.

Mr Erbakan has promised not to interfere with the way people eat, drink or dress. On the evidence of the many municipalities managed by his party since 1994, there should be no reason to disbelieve him. But, given his occasionally wildly anti-Semitic and pro-Islamic remarks, many Turks remain suspicious.

The 70-year-old Erbakan had an uneven record as a deputy prime minister in three governments in the troubled 1970s. But he finally achieved his ambition to be prime minister yesterday when True Path Party leader Tansu Ciller made the highly controversial decision to throw her lot in with him. She becomes Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

Prime Minister from 1993 until March this year, Mrs Ciller may have felt she had no alternative. In theory, her party has shared power since March in a government headed by the Motherland Party's Mesut Yilmaz. But their personal hatred meant that virtually nothing was achieved, another factor that has eased public resistance to Mr Erbakan's taking power.

Behind the froth of their political squabbling, Turkey's powerful institutions have stepped in to rule instead. The military went ahead to sign a co- operation agreement with Israel in February.

Despite Turkish denials, the accord appears to be strongly targeted at Syria. Mr Erbakan, however, professes great love for Syria and the Arab world and a dislike of American imperialism, so it seems likely there will be a cooling-off period in official aspects of the Israeli relationship.

He will, however, be in complete accord with pursuing the military's 12-year-old fight with the Kurdistan Workers' Party.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
News
news
News
Sir James Dyson: 'Students must be inspired to take up the challenge of engineering'
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
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: Senior Software Engineer - Python / Node / C / Go

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: *Flexible working in a relaxed ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Bookkeeper

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This accountancy firm have an e...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Developer / Mobile Apps / Java / C# / HTML 5 / JS

£17000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Junior Mobile Application Devel...

Recruitment Genius: LGV Driver - Category C or C+E

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This national Company that manu...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?