Turkey puts muzzle on political discussion

Any debate or discussion of Turkey's political future has been brought to a halt by the restrictions announced last week by the ruling National Security Council led by Gen. Kenan Evren.

The announcement has caused dismay in some political circles, particularly among former politicians who had recently begun to engage themselves in such discussions. But even these circles seem to have bowed to the orders of the military administration and to have given up, at least for the time being, their involvement in public debates that are regarded officially as "political activities."

The move is regarded by most Western observers here as a hardening of the military rulers' attitude toward politicians and intellectuals who have different ideas about the way Turkey should return to democracy.

But the ruling generals point out that the restrictions do not represent a change in attitude, only a reiteration of the bans on all kinds of political activities announced immediately after the military takeover last September.

The emergency measures include the ban on party activities at all levels and the imposition of martial law in all 67 provinces of turkey.

The generals' warning has immediately stopped the press campaign and other public debates about the constituent assembly that is expected to be established next fall.

The National Security Council is considering a draft law on the formation of that assembly, whose main task will be to prepare a new constitution. The assembly is likely to have 150 members, one-third of whom reportedly will be appointed by the military administration -- the others will be selected from the provinces.

Recently several former politicians and intellectuals have been expressing their views on how the assembly should be formed. Many of them said the members of the assembly should be elected by the people.

A leading former politician of the conservative Justice Party wrote in defense of this view: "To pass to democracy without politics or free elections is to disregard and distrust the people. . . . Otherwise the new Constitution will be undemocratic and shortlived."

Similar views recently expressed in the press and in public statements seem to have disturbed the military administration, which has its own ideas on this matter. The military rulers maintain that in this transition period the country should enjoy complete tranquility. Polemics and tension between politicians, who have brought the country to the brink of a civil war, would undermine the atmosphere needed for the restoration of democracy, they say.

There are many here, however, who doubt that a real democratic system can be restored without any free discussions of these problems and the future of the political institutions -- even at this early stage.

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