1990s >> 1996 >> no-1098-february-1996

Familiar murmurings from Turkey

As had been widely forecast, the radical Islamic Welfare Party, or Refah, won the Christmas Eve general election in Turkey with 21 percent of votes cast. And, as many had anticipated, no sooner had the election result been announced that the outgoing True Path Party and the nationalist Motherland Party met for talks to discuss the possibility of forming a coalition to oust the islamists. The True Path Party and the Motherland Party had between them secured 38 percent of the vote.

Tansu Ciller’s True Path Party had believed they would romp home in the election, capitalising on their surge of popularity following the previous week’s endorsement by the European parliament of a customs union between Ankara and the EU.

Ciller apparently forgot that much of her opposition is in the growing rural communities, strongly islamic traditionalists, and in Ankara and Istanbul (combined population of 14 million) where islamists won the mayorships in 1994. Evidently it is here, among the lower echelons of the working class that her austerity programme, aimed at curbing Turkey’s 83 percent inflation rate and $4 billion budget deficit and targeted chiefly at the 11 million unemployed, is most strongly felt.

While the West would have welcomed a pro-European Ciller government of free marketeers, hell bent on privatisation, it was Necmettin Erbakan’s (Rafah’s leader) promises that carried the day.

Refah, for instance, believes in creating interest-free banking, ending Turkey’s dependence on IMF loans, an Islamic common market and an Islamic currency, a renegotiation of the customs union deal and the removal of allied war planes from Turkish soil.
Like every other party in Turkey, though, Refah does not believe an end to the capitalist mode of production will be a step forward. Indeed, Refah gets support from Turkey’s capital-owning fraternity, including technocrats like Erol Yarar who fronts a pro-islamic business association that represents some 6,000 companies, all oddly enough, in business to make a profit.

Erbakan’s promises of creating a “just order” for the poor and alienated, therefore, might as well have been whispered to the wind, for with victory came the frightening away of foreign investment, upon which the Turkish economy is highly dependent. The cause? Political instability, or rather the threat of it.

Political instability is indeed a possibility in Turkey, and something perhaps that was anticipated by Tansu Ciller before she left office. Why else would she expel 50 officers from her army—all linked to pro-islamist organisations—a week before the election? The fear of a military coup broughtabout by unrest, as in 1960, 1971 and 1980?

This is the scenario that many Turks now fear should no workable coalition be formed within the stipulated 45 days following the election. Some of the ingredients are already there: secular/religious tensions; little political consensus; an economy worsening by the day; human rights abuses, inclusive of disappearances from police custody and the imprisonment of political dissenters and the unpopular and ongoing “scorched earth” war against the Kurds.

In the weeks ahead Refah will have to convince the populace that the economy is in safe hands. This means responding to questions regarding Turkey’s relationship with the West—important trade, investment and defence partners—and with Iraq—once Turkey’s biggest trading partner and with whom economic ties have been severed since the Gulf Far.

In the meantime, while the West watches from the sidelines, wondering if there are still profits to be made from an Islamic Turkey, and Turkey’s sundry nationalists, free-marketeers and religious confusionists argue amongst themselves as to which coalition can best run capitalism, it is the masses, the Turkish working class which have the most to lose whatever the outcome. It is they who will continue to exist as wage slaves in a class society, imbibing and perpetuating the nationalistic and religious rantings that keep them oppressed. It is they who will face hunger, mass arrests and arbitrary executions should the system fall apart.