Turkey's generals design a democracy

This Sunday's election in Turkey will restore democracy after three years of tough military rule, but there is no certainty that the Turkish republic will regain its credentials as a member of the Western alliance.

The generals who took over in 1980 in the midst of political chaos will remain a decisive power in Turkey after the vote. And Turkey's allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Community will be waiting to see how much power is really passed back into the hands of civilian politicians who were carefully screened by the military.

In addition, politics in Western-allied Turkey are taking on a decidedly Middle Eastern tone. Under the stern eyes of Gen. Kenan Evren, who seized power from warring political factions three years ago, election campaigning has been marked by powerful assertions that Turkey is an Islamic country with a need to maintain close ties with the Muslim world.

The electoral process that will produce a Grand National Assembly of 400 deputies has been flawed. Fifteen new parties tried to enter the contest, but the generals have allowed only three to take part in the elections.

The two most influential Turkish politicians, Suleyman Demirel of the right-wing Justice Party and Bulent Ecevit of the leftist Republican People's Party (RPP), have been banned from politics for 10 years. Both men are former prime ministers.

The three parties that remain in the contest have satisfied President Evren's standard of political acceptability, but the winner of the race will suffer a serious handicap: Every Turk knows better people were, in theory, available.

Turkey has a pressing need to regain its credentials as a ''natural'' member of the Western alliance and of the European political community.

Occupying a strategically vital position on NATO's southern flank, the country slid into political chaos three years ago as Demirel and Ecevit lost control of their supporters, who plunged Turkey into a terrorist bloodbath. At the height of the crisis, 20 or more people were being murdered every day.

In September 1980, Evren and his fellow generals stepped in and took over from the politicians. They cited the Turkish Army's right to safeguard the Constitution.

But the rigorous system the generals imposed in the name of Kemal Ataturk, the great Turkish patriotic hero, struck European governments as unduly Draconian.

NATO governments felt uneasy. The Council of Europe, made up of more than 20 countries, assailed the generals for their infringement of human rights.

The 10-nation European Community, which sees Turkey as a member of the ''club'' in the long term, recoiled at the sight of a military government decisively suppressing democratic parties.

This led Evren and his associates to set about reviving Turkish democracy. But they proscribed the ''old'' parties and their leaders and tried to ensure that a new breed of politician would fill the vacuum left by Demirel and Ecevit.

The result has been a three-horse race, with each party having to strive for credibility.

* Ex-Gen. Turgut Sunalp, leader of the Nationalist Democratic Party, was Evren's favorite to win.

* Another right-wing grouping, the Motherland Party, which is led by an economist, Turgut Ozal, was also approved by the generals.

* The moderately leftist Populist Party of Necdet Calp persuaded Evren that it should be allowed to enter the lists.

The problem is that many Turks retain allegiance to either the Justice Party or Ecevit's RPP and will vote reluctantly for the ''approved'' parties or spoil their ballots.

Sunalp and the Nationalist Democratic Party, aware that they are likely to lose, have been appealing for Islamic support from Turkish voters. Ozal and the Motherland Party have also found it necessary to stress Turkey's close links with the Muslim world.

All this is likely to produce the unhappy result that the political leader who emerges will lack a truly enthusiastic popular following. General Evren and the other generals will continue to wield power, probably under extended martial law, making the elected politicians appear as little more than puppets.

As voting day approached, Evren's bid to achieve international respectability seemed to be in deep trouble. Crowds for the three contesting parties have been sparse, and there is a widespread feeling that Ecevit and Demirel are biding their time before challenging their 10-year bans from politics.

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