An optimistic Turkey moves closer to democracy?

Early snowstorms disrupted life in Istanbul and several other parts of the country during the second week of November. They brought to an end a long, pleasant Indian summer or ''pastirma yazi'' (''pastrami summer'') as Turks call it - the time when this favorite delicacy is cured in the sun.

But the snowstorms did not dampen the mood of optimism that permeates Turkey.

The country's most popular newspaper, Hurriyet, featured a full-page portrait of Kemal Ataturk (Turkey' first president) on Nov. 10, the 43rd anniversary of his death, with the headline ''With you we are happy - proud - strong!''

This was no hollow sentiment. Nor did the military instruct the paper to print it. Turkey is completing a year of celebrating the 100th anniversary of Ataturk's birth and it is more firmly committed than ever to his reforms and his concept of the country's place in the world.

The military leadership, which calls itself the National Security Council (NSC), is well into its second year. It enjoys the support of the overwhelming majority of the population.

The economic situation is still improving. The rate of inflation has dropped below 40 percent and prices have begun to stabilize. Exports for 1981 are expected to exceed $4.5 billion, more than half a billion dollars over the target set for the year.

Money sent home from Turkish workers abroad has exceeded expectations, and demand for additional workers in the Middle East is growing. Turkish workers in the Middle East send home a far larger proportion of their earnings than do those in Germany. Turkish contractors have done nearly $10 billion worth of construction in Arab countries.

Further economic improvements are taken for granted, though difficult problems remain to be worked out, especially those connected with the state economic enterprises.

In recent weeks public attention has been concentrated on the political processes that the NSC has set in motion to pave the way for return to parliamentary democracy. Selection of 160 members of a constituent assembly was announced on Oct. 15. The NSC directly chose 40 of these. The country's 67 provinces nominated the other 120 with each province receiving at least one representative. This gives the thinly populated eastern regions somewhat more representation proportionately than the highly urbanized and more populous west.

All assembly members were selected from lists of citizens who offered to serve in response to a call from the NSC at the beginning of the summer. Two categories were excluded: militarymen now in service and members of political parties.

Politicians resented exclusion and predicted that few Turks would offer themselves for selection. They proved to be wrong. Final selections were made from more than 12,000 candidates who volunteered.

The 160-member assembly includes relatively few famous names. But it can hardly be characterized as unrepresentative, for it includes retired military officers, administrators, businessmen, teachers, doctors, scientists, professors , lawyers, agricultural experts, engineers, and at least one labor leader. Five of the members are women.

The assembly was ceremoniously convened in the imposing modern parliament building in Ankara on Oct. 23 and is now meeting continually. It is charged with rewriting the Constitution, developing a new political party law and a new election law. It is expected to require the better part of a year to complete its work. Dissolving political parties

Elder statesman Kasim Gulek, who has been active in Turkish public life since the 1940s, considers the process of devising a more workable and durable democratic order the most important development in Turkish history since Ataturk proclaimed his basic reforms in the 1920s and 1930s.

''When multiparty democracy was introduced after World War II,'' he observes, ''the most important principle of a true democratic system failed to be recognized: the notion of the loyal opposition. Competition between parties became demagogic and took priority over all other considerations.

''Party leaders could not bring themselves to recognize that there were issues on which they needed to work together in the national interest. We saw (Bulent) Ecevit and (Suleyman) Demirel carry their rivalry to the point of undermining the existence of the state during recent years when even in the face of major terrorist threat they could not cooperate on anything.''

The NSC has not given the constituent assembly detailed blueprints for a new political system. Assembly members are being encouraged to study the way other democracies cope with basic constitutional and political problems.

On one issue, however, the military leaders have taken a decisive step. The day after assembly members were announced, all political parties (there were 18) were formally dissolved and their property and assets nationalized. An Ankara merchant who greeted this announcement coolly typified the reaction of much of the population:

''I thought when they closed the parties down months ago that this meant they were finished. They should have done the whole job then. We don't need those quarrelsome old parties and we won't miss them.''

The problem the military leadership faced was more complex, as large numbers of Turks realize. Some military men were reluctant to abolish the Republican People's Party (RPP), founded by Ataturk. In spite of its turn toward socialism under Ecevit, it was still widely regarded as the prime guardian of his reforms. New parties

A debate developed over this issue. Professors and elder statesmen were consulted. The case for a new beginning with a clean slate won out.

''It is not that we oppose political parties in principle,'' explains Adm. Isik Biren, NSC coordinator (a position analogous to that of Ed Meese in Reagan's White House), ''but we decided that we could not have one party with more of a claim on the Ataturk heritage than any other.

''We were also concerned about the lack of internal democracy in all the parties. They have been little dictatorships with leaders tightening their hold over them. We want to start out with new parties, all on an equal footing. We want them to reflect real attitudes among the people and not simply be organizations for politicians to manipulate.''

The military is setting high standards for the political parties that will be formed again when the constitutent assembly finishes its work. It remains to be seen how well they can be met.

Parties in many democracies - notably in the US - tend to swing from one extreme to another. It is not merely party rules, but above all the electoral system that will determine how parties work in Turkey in the future.

Everyone expects the new system to deemphasize proportional representation and perhaps to abandon it entirely in favor of single-member constituencies. But some Turks worry that if parties are too weak, regional interests - religious and ethnic particularism - may become too strong.

The constituent assembly will have to work carefully and make compromises. The new constitution it produces is expected to be submitted to popular referendum. This is unlikely to occur sooner than the fall of 1982. Gen. Kenan Evren, head of the National Security Agency, refuses to set a deadline. The voice of protest

The decree dissolving political parties galvanized Turkey's most ambitious retired politician, Bulent Ecevit, into actions that have resulted in his being sentenced to four months in prison beginning Dec. 3. Many Turks are convinced that he has been seeking this kind of martyrdom and regret that military leaders appear to have granted him his wish.

Ecevit had resigned as leader of the RPP soon after it became clear that the military was serious about suspending partisan political activity. He devoted himself last spring to putting out a weekly news magazine. Critical articles got him into several bouts of minor difficulty with the government until the NSC banned all public speeches, press conferences, and articles by former political leaders.

Ecevit reacted to General Evren's statement on dissolution of parties as if it had been directed primarily at him. On Oct. 19 he delivered a seven-page rebuttal to Turkish radio and television, which was not broadcast.

The rebuttal was simultaneously circulated in English to the foreign press and diplomatic community. It appears to have been designed more for foreign than domestic consumption. Its version of the last several years of Turkish political history would not be accepted by most Turks.

Ecevit has lost most of his following at home. His archrival, former Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel, who has refrained from public statements, retains more popular respect.

Demirel discreetly reminds visitors that it was in his final term as prime minister that the economic recovery program that is now working so well was actually launched, several months before military takeover.

It was Demirel who gave Turgut Ozal the green light to be

''Party leaders could not bring themselves to recognize that there were issues on which they needed to work together in the national interest. We saw (Bulent) Ecevit and (Suleyman) Demirel carry their rivalry to the point of undermining the existence of the state during recent years when even in the face of major terrorist threat they could not cooperate on anything.''

The NSC has not given the constituent assembly detailed blueprints for a new political system. Assembly members are being encouraged to study the way other democracies cope with basic constitutional and political problems.

On one issue, however, the military leaders have taken a decisive step. The day after assembly members were announced, all political parties (there were 18) were formally dissolved and their property and assets nationalized. An Ankara merchant who greeted this announcement coolly typified the reaction of much of the population:

''I thought when they closed the parties down months ago that this meant they were finished. They should have done the whole job then. We don't need those quarrelsome old parties and we won't miss them.''

The problem the military leadership faced was more complex, as large numbers of Turks realize. Some military men were reluctant to abolish the Republican People's Party (RPP), founded by Ataturk. In spite of its turn toward socialism under Ecevit, it was still widely regarded as the prime guardian of his reforms. New parties

A debate developed over this issue. Professors and elder statesmen were consulted. The case for a new beginning with a clean slate won out.

''It is not that we oppose political parties in principle,'' explains Adm. Isik Biren, NSC coordinator (a position analogous to that of Ed Meese in Reagan's White House), ''but we decided that we could not have one party with more of a claim on the Ataturk heritage than any other.

''We were also concerned about the lack of internal democracy in all the parties. They have been little dictatorships with leaders tightening their hold over them. We want to start out with new parties, all on an equal footing. We want them to reflect real attitudes among the people and not simply be organizations for politicians to manipulate.''

The military is setting high standards for the political parties that will be formed again when the constitutent assembly finishes its work. It remains to be seen how well they can be met.

Parties in many democracies - notably in the US - tend to swing from one extreme to another. It is not merely party rules, but above all the electoral system that will determine how parties work in Turkey in the future.

Everyone expects the new system to deemphasize proportional representation and perhaps to abandon it entirely in favor of single-member constituencies. But some Turks worry that if parties are too weak, regional interests - religious and ethnic particularism - may become too strong.

The constituent assembly will have to work carefully and make compromises. The new constitution it produces is expected to be submitted to popular referendum. This is unlikely to occur sooner than the fall of 1982. Gen. Kenan Evren, head of the National Security Agency, refuses to set a deadline. The voice of protest

The decree dissolving political parties galvanized Turkey's most ambitious retired politician, Bulent Ecevit, into actions that have resulted in his being sentenced to four months in prison beginning Dec. 3. Many Turks are convinced that he has been seeking this kind of martyrdom and regret that military leaders appear to have granted him his wish.

Ecevit had resigned as leader of the RPP soon after it became clear that the military was serious about suspending partisan political activity. He devoted himself last spring to putting out a weekly news magazine. Critical articles got him into several bouts of minor difficulty with the government until the NSC banned all public speeches, press conferences, and articles by former political leaders.

Ecevit reacted to General Evren's statement on dissolution of parties as if it had been directed primarily at him. On Oct. 19 he delivered a seven-page rebuttal to Turkish radio and television, which was not broadcast.

The rebuttal was simultaneously circulated in English to the foreign press and diplomatic community. It appears to have been designed more for foreign than domestic consumption. Its version of the last several years of Turkish political history would not be accepted by most Turks.

Ecevit has lost most of his following at home. His archrival, former Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel, who has refrained from public statements, retains more popular respect.

Demirel discreetly reminds visitors that it was in his final term as prime minister that the economic recovery program that is now working so well was actually launched, several months before military takeover.

It was Demirel who gave Turgut Ozal the green light to begin transforming the Turkish economy into a free-market system that now gets top marks from the International Monetary Fund and earns praise for Turkey from international businessmen and bankers. The prestigious magazine Euromoney named Turgut Ozal ''economics minister of the year'' (he is actually deputy prime minister in the present government) and features him on the cover of its October issue. General Evren is on the cover of the same month's issue of the plush international monthly, Leaders.

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