Turkish generals keep tight grip on election preparations
Istanbul — Starting up a national political party in Turkey is a formidable task. Any new party must fill out 139,233 forms and applications - all within 101 days, according to a leading Turkish newspaper.
Some observers say these difficult requirements show the government is doing all it can to block parties seeking to oppose the military's choice in the coming November election. Fifteen parties want to run in the election, but so far only one - the military-favored Nationalist Democracy Party - has managed to set up a nationwide organization.
The military regime lifted the ban on political activities May 16 and set Aug. 24 as the date for the start of the election campaign. The election is scheduled for Nov. 6.
The enormous amount of red tape is just one of the many obstacles hampering formation of new parties in Turkey.
There are two main conditions for eligibility for the November balloting:
* A party must be organized in at least 34 of Turkey's 67 provinces.
Given the relatively short period of time, not all the new parties might have the human and financial means to set up such an organization.
* A group of 30 founding members must be approved by the ruling National Security Council by Aug. 24. The council, composed of five generals, can reject founders - and thus block the formation of a party.
So far only three parties have been able to meet both conditions. They are the center-right Nationalist Democracy Party, which is led by retired Gen. Turgut Sunalp and has the tacit approval of the ruling generals; the Motherland Party, which combines economic liberalism with traditionalism; and the People's Party, a moderate, left-of-center party.
Two other parties, one on the left, the other on the right, have been subject to constant vetos and so far have failed to receive the necessary approval of their 30 founding members. They are the Social Democratic Party, whose leader, Prof. Erdal Inonu, son of a former president, was vetoed as a founding member, and the conservative Right Way Party, which has been presenting itself as the heir of former Premier Suleyman Demirel.
Mr. Demirel is among a group of leading politicians who have been banished to a remote part of the country and banned from political activities.
The continual rejection of some of the founders of the Social Democratic Party and the Right Way Party indicates the generals' dislike for these two groups, which could receive considerable support in the elections.
Although both have submitted a new list of founding members to the authorities, it is not certain yet that they will be approved. If they are not by Aug. 24, they will not qualify to run in the coming general elections.
Many observers speculate that the generals want to keep all but three parties already approved out of the political scene, at least for the next parliament.
President Kenan Evren has complained repeatedly in recent speeches about the ''inflation of new parties'' and has publicly accused politicians of acting in a very selfish way. He has also used strong words against former politicians who - although barred from politics - still try to play a role behind the scenes and through some of the new parties.
Most of the dozen parties that have not yet gained approval are small rightist, insignificant groups, with names such as Our Party, the Flag Party, or the Party of Virtue. The generals are concerned that they could be ''spoilers'' in the elections, weakening the likelihood of having a strong government and stability in the next term of five years.
The generals are trying hard to ensure the merger of the two major parties on the right-center, the Nationalist Democracy Party and the Motherland Party. But differences that are more personal than ideological make such a fusion seem unlikely.
It is clear that the present military regime wants to hand over power to the Nationalist Democracy Party. To that end, it is trying to create conditions for a landslide victory for the NDP in the November elections.
The Motherland Party, led by the popular architect of Turkey's economic stabilization program, Turgut Ozal, might turn out to be its major rival.
And if the Social Democratic Party is allowed to enter the election campaign, the People's Party on the moderate left, which has the generals' blessing, would lose its chances. In fact, the Social Democrats might even take after the outlawed Republican People's Party of Bulent Ecevit (who is free, but barred from politics) and emerge as the second largest political force in Turkey.
Fresh efforts are being made to strengthen the Nationalist Democracy Party and to make it better known with some popular figures.
There is a lot of talk about the possibility of Prime Minister Bulent Ulusu joining that party, which again seems to be the wish of the generals. That would certainly add more weight to the generals' favorite group.
What looks certain is that as the countdown to the elections starts, the generals will exercise their powers to ensure the victory of their favorite party. They intend to retreat from active politics with a sense of comfort and confidence about a smooth transition to a civilian-run government.