A year later, democracy gains under 'economic revolution'
Istanbul — Turgut Ozal has just completed his first year as Turkey's prime minister, and the reviews are mixed. When the conservative politician took office last December, he promised major changes in the nation's economic, social, and political structures. Not all of them have met the expectations of the public.
In fact, public opinion polls widely reported in the local press recently show that a large section of the nation is disappointed and dissatisfied with some aspects of Mr. Ozal's economic policies. But in spite of this discontent, the prime minister's popularity has been only slightly eroded. Polls indicate he would win an election if one were held today.
No doubt this has been a very difficult year for Ozal, taking office after three years of military rule and a period of political violence and economic and social instability.
''Our first year in office has passed under extremely hard conditions,'' Ozal told a press conference over the weekend. ''There were doubts on whether democracy would work, whether terror would start again, and whether the government would show the courage to take important decisions. None of these problems and fears has emerged.''
Ozal's success in restoring calm and stability in the trouble-torn country is not contested. He ensured a smooth transition to civilian rule while accommodating the Army. He has established a close working relationship with President Kenan Evren, the former head of the military regime. With the restoration of law and order, martial law has been lifted in several provinces.
Yet many Turkish intellectuals criticize him for allowing human-rights violations to continue and for not moving faster in restoring full democracy. There are still some restrictions and pressures on the press, the universities, and the labor unions. Military courts still handle political offenses. Hundreds of political prisoners are in jail.
But most observers here agree that there has been significant progress in restoring a more democratic system since Ozal took office. New political parties have emerged and opposition groups that were under a ban last year took part in local elections last March. However, restrictions on political activities imposed by the military on former political leaders remain in force.
The main changes under Ozal are in the economic field. Ozal is referred to as an architect of an ''economic revolution'' in Turkey. He has introduced a free-market economy, gradually replacing the old system of state control.
He has lifted restrictions on imports and on foreign currency dealings. He has taken measures to promote private and foreign investments. He has introduced a tight money and high-interest rate policy to encourage savings and curb inflation.
He has recently started to turn over inefficient public facilities and state enterprises to private hands, including the Turkish airlines.
The fact is that the growth rate of Turkey's gross national product this year has reached 5.7 percent, exports have risen by 28 percent, and industrial production is up by 10 percent. The balance of payments has greatly improved and the country enjoys an all-time high in foreign currency reserves - $2.3 billion. The government has also undertaken tax reforms (including the institution of tax rebates and a value-added tax) and the difficult task of reducing bureaucratic red tape.
Most observers acknowledge Ozal's success in these fields. But where the results are not good and the reactions are bitter is in the categories of inflation and unemployment. Despite Ozal's promise to reduce inflation to 25 percent this year, the figure is likely to be closer to 50 percent. Food prices in particular have skyrocketed in recent months. What Ozal calls the ''central pillar'' - the middle class - has been deeply affected by price rises.
In spite of complaints by the business community about the government's policy of restricting the money supply, commercial and banking circles have largely benefited from Ozal's policies. One result seems to be a widening gulf between the rich and the poor.
But Ozal says that one year is too short a time for his policies to bear fruit.
''What we are doing now,'' Ozal explains, ''is to lay the foundation of a great, powerful, and prosperous Turkey.''