Turkish premier scores comfortable win. Rifts within opposition help boost Ozal's party

Despite garnering only about one-third of the popular vote, Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Ozal has been reelected to a second five-year term. Under Turkey's electoral system, the 36 percent of the votes Mr. Ozal received Sunday will give his conservative Motherland Party a majority of more than 290 seats in the 450-seat National Assembly.

Motherland Party officials see the election as a fresh mandate for Ozal and a vote of confidence for his policies. The opposition parties, however, interpret it more as result of an electoral system that leads to what they say is an unfair distribution of political power.

Under this system a party must get a minimum of 10 percent of the total votes to qualify for representation in the assembly - a rule that disqualified four of the six opposition parties.

The leftist Social Democratic Populist Party emerged as the main opposition group, with 24 percent of the total vote. It will have only 97 parliamentary seats.

Former Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel's center-right True Path Party obtained nearly 20 percent of the ballot, which gives it about 60 seats.

``A party cannot hold power all by itself by having only 36 percent of the total votes,'' Mr. Demirel said after the election. ``This is dangerous for Turkey's political future.''

Splits among the opposition parties contributed to their lackluster showing.

Had the two leading leftist parties, for instance, agreed to form a common front, the left would have gained stronger representation in the National Assembly. Efforts to join forces failed more because of personal differences rather than serious ideological discord.

The election system was adopted before the military handed over power to the civilians in 1983, and was modified under Ozal's administration. Motherland Party politicians say the purpose of the law was to avoid a proliferation of political groups in parliament leading to the kind of shaky coalition governments and political instability that Turkey experienced in the 1970s.

Despite the controversy over the election system, there is consensus here that these were genuinely free elections.

European parliamentarians, who watched the polls, said they were impressed with the fairness and hailed the election as a significant step in the democratization of Turkey.

Even with his large majority, Ozal is not likely to have an easy time of it over the next five years.

The immediate problem facing his government is 45 percent inflation, a factor which the two main opposition parties exploited.

Ozal promised to tackle inflation in his campaign. Some measures - such as increasing prices of basic commodities - might prove unpopular and contrary to his free-market economy concept. Whether Ozal will opt for a slowing down of economic growth (8 percent last year) to curb inflation remains to be seen.

Ozal, who leaves for the United States today for a medical checkup, is scheduled to confer with financial and business leaders in Washington and New York. He is seeking American support for new loans for Turkey.

Ozal's election victory will allow him to pursue his goal of getting Turkey admitted to full membership in the European Community.

It is also expected that he may try a new initiative to resolve long-standing disputes with neighboring Greece. There is talk about arranging a summit meeting between Ozal and Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou.

Analysts here agree that Ozal would have a freer hand in dealing with domestic concerns if Turkey's problems with Greece were resolved.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.