Turks head to polls in first free election since '80 coup
Istanbul — ``Give me five years more'' has been Prime Minister Turgut Ozal's campaign slogan as Turkey prepares to hold its first free elections since the military coup in 1980. Mr. Ozal probably will get his wish when 25 million voters cast their ballots Sunday. Opinion polls show his conservative Motherland Party is likely to win a majority in the 450-seat National Assembly. However, his chances of achieving a landslide victory - as was expected earlier - now seem dimmer.
The big question now is how strong his party will be in the new legislature. Many observers say he may receive only a comfortable majority of 250 or more, instead of the anticipated landslide.
The leader of the Social Democratic Populist Party, Erdal Inonu, suddenly has emerged as Ozal's main challenger. Longtime politicians, including former prime ministers Suleyman Demirel and Bulent Ecevit, failed to prove serious contenders. Polls indicate Mr. Inonu's moderate leftist party will emerge as the main opposition group in parliament, while Mr. Demirel's center-right True Path Party will become a third force.
Under Turkey's electoral system, a party must get a minimum of 10 percent of the total votes to qualify for representation in the assembly. Polls show it is unlikely any of the opposition parties will surpass the 10 percent margin.
The opposition groups have focused on economic problems in their attacks against Ozal. Forty five percent annual inflation, 18 percent unemployment, deteriorating living standards, and a $35 billion foreign debt have been their favorite topics. ``Don't allow Ozal to squeeze you like a lemon,'' was one popular slogan employed by Inonu during the election campaign.
Faced with such criticism which reflected growing public discontent, Ozal concentrated on two accomplishments. First, he underscored the restoration of law, order, and democracy in Turkey. He also stressed his economic achievements. Under his government, Turkey has moved to a free-market economy by opening up foreign trade, lifting restrictions on foreign currency and interest rates, and cutting state subsidies.
The campaign was dominated by domestic issues, but Turkey's application for full membership to the European Community (EC) was raised. Although Ozal's Motherland Party combines trends, from pro-fundamentalism to liberalism, he says his goal is to ensure Turkey's total integration with the West and the EC. He sees Turkey's role as a bridge between East and West.