How Long Can Turkey's Ozal Last? A SLAP FROM VOTERS
PRIME Minister Turgut Ozal's administration will not last long, say leading Turkish politicians following his party's drubbing in March 26 local elections. Although the conservative premier says there is no reason for him to resign and that his ruling Motherland Party, which commands 292 of the 450-seat Parliament, is entitled to stay in power until 1992, many leading politicians are convinced he will need to call early elections.
Ozal's close aides in the party, such as Oltan Sungurlu and Mehmet Kececiler, have openly stated that the Motherland Party cannot stay in power until the next election in 1992. The head of the party's parliamentary group, Haydar Ozalp, said that elections within six months are now inevitable.
Most observers believe that ``this is the beginning of the end of Ozal's era,'' a political analyst remarked.
Even those observers and public opinion pollsters who had predicted a major setback for Ozal's party didn't expect the magnitude of the defeat suffered by the Motherland Party, which fell to third place behind the Social Democratic Populist Party and the right-wing True Path Party.
In fact, the biggest surprise in these polls was the strength displayed by the latter.
Its leader, Suleyman Demirel, was ousted from office as prime minister in the 1980 military coup. He performed a remarkable comeback and emerged as the strongest figure on the right in Turkey, which still commands a majority of votes over the left.
Another surprise that shocked the Motherland Party was the collapse of what was regarded as the party's strongholds, such as the post of mayor of Istanbul, held by the popular and charismatic Bedrettin Dalan. All this suggests that the majority of the 22 million Turkish electors cast a protest vote against the Motherland Party, even at the expense of local officials with whom they sympathized. Ozal himself admitted it by saying, ``This slap seems to be quite severe.''
The main factors that led the Turkish electorate to give such a ``severe slap'' were:
Ozal's failure to bring down inflation, which exceeded 80 percent last year and is 75 percent at present. The middle class (called the ``center pillar'' by Ozal) has been seriously affected. The positive economic indicators such as booming exports have not improved conditions for millions of Turks, whose rising expectations were shattered.
The disclosure of major corruption cases. Tolerated by the Ozal administration and encouraged by its liberal, laissez-faire policy, ``fictitious exports'' and bank credit scandals have provoked widespread disappointment and anger.
Ozal's habit of gathering around him members of his family (his brother, son, cousin, and wife), making them almost a decision-making body instead of the Cabinet and party leadership. People have started to refer to them as the ``Ozal dynasty'' and to see this practice a dangerous, Ottoman-style, authoritarian tendency.
Ozal's ``flirtation'' with the pro-fundamentalists in and outside his party. This has alienated the more liberal and progressive supporters of the party.
The question now is, what happens next, as the prime minister insists that the result of these polls do not affect the parliamentary picture and the Motherland Party's solid majority.
THESE are the different probabilities and scenarios considered in political circles in Ankara:
Ozal stays. He changes his government (in fact, he asked his Cabinet to resign in order to name new ministers). He readjusts his economic policy with a priority on reducing inflation. He waits for some positive economic results and a more favorable atmosphere for his party. This might take one to two years. When he thinks the time is opportune, probably in 1990, he holds early elections.
Most observers believe this is Ozal's new strategy.
The Motherland Party collapses. It is already known that many leading members and parliamentarians of the Motherland Party are turning against Ozal and considering leaving the party if Ozal does not change his attitude. There is talk that some 50 parliamentarians may soon join Mr. Demirel's True Path Party. There is also talk that many disappointed Motherland Party members, particularly in the liberal wing, including Mr. Dalan, the ex-mayor of Istanbul, might form a new party.
Some observers believe that if the Motherland Party is plunged into such a crisis, Ozal might eventually be forced to resign.
Early elections are forced on Ozal. According to the Turkish Constitution, such a decision needs parliamentary approval. The present strength of the opposition is not adequate for such a decision. Only large-scale defections of parliamentarians from the Motherland Party could enable this. And this does not look likely. Of course, if Ozal and the party leadership opt for early elections, it would be easier to get parliamentary approval. But this is not their intention right now.
Pressure for early elections is expected from all opposition parties, the press, labor unions, and other groups and organizations. The question is, how long can Ozal resist? There are concerns that such political tension could create an atmosphere of uncertainty that would frighten foreign investors and reduce Ozal's credibility abroad.