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Politics and Elections in the 1970s

On March 12, 1971, the armed forces chiefs, headed by army commander General Faruk Gürler, presented a memorandum to President Sunay demanding the installation of a "strong and credible government." The military leaders warned civilian officials that the armed forces would be compelled to take over the administration of the state once again unless a government were found that could curb the violence and implement the economic and social reforms, including land reform, stipulated in the 1961 constitution. Demirel resigned the same day. The incident was referred to as the "coup by memorandum."

After consultation with Gürler and the other armed forces chiefs, Sunay asked Nihat Erim, a university professor and CHP centrist, to form a "national unity, above-party government" that would enlist the support of the major parties. Erim led the first of a series of weak caretaker cabinets that governed Turkey until the October 1973 elections.

A joint session of the Grand National Assembly was convened in March 1973 to elect a successor to President Sunay. Many observers had assumed that General Gürler, whose candidacy had the open backing of the armed forces, would be elected without serious opposition, but Demirel was determined to resist what he considered dictation by the military. The AP nominated Tekin Ariburun, chairman of the Senate, to oppose Gürler. After seven ballots, Gürler and Ariburun withdrew. When Sunay's term expired on March 28, Ariburun, in his capacity as Senate chairman, became acting president under the constitution. On April 6, deputies and senators in the Grand National Assembly elected Fahri Korutürk president on the fifteenth ballot. Significantly, the new president, a seventy-year-old retired admiral who had served as an independent member of the Senate since 1968, had a direct tie to Atatürk, who reportedly had conferred on him the name Korutürk, meaning "Protect the Turks."

In the 1973 election, Ecevit's CHP increased its support by more than 1 million votes by calling for redistribution of wealth through taxation and social services, rural development, land reform, continued state direction of economic activity, and a general amnesty for political prisoners detained under martial law. However, holding only 185 seats, the party failed to gain an overall majority in the Grand National Assembly. The AP, which saw its share of the vote decline to 30 percent, retained only 149 seats. A large segment of its right-wing support was siphoned off by the MSP and the Democratic Party, which won forty-eight seats and forty-five seats, respectively. The Republican Reliance Party (RRP), formed by the merger of centrist groups that had seceded earlier from the CHP, won thirteen seats. The MHP took three seats.

The most significant consequence of the 1973 election was that the Democratic Party and the MSP held the balance of power in parliament, and it was unlikely that any coalition government could be formed without the participation of one or both of them. The politicians in the Democratic Party strongly resented the warnings periodically handed down to elected officials by military leaders, but also disapproved of Demirel on personal as well as political grounds. The MSP was led by Necmettin Erbakan, who had been leader of the proscribed New Order Party. The MSP was regarded as a revival of that party under a new name. The principal plank in the MSP's platform was the restoration of Islamic law and practice in Turkey. The party sought improved relations with other Muslim countries and less reliance on the West, yet was also ardently anticommunist. Advocating direct election of the president and the strengthening of executive authority, the MSP, while upholding the right to private property, opposed the liberal economic policies favored by the AP.

In January 1974, Ecevit, leader of the party founded by Atatürk, reached a short-lived agreement with Erbakan, the head of an Islamic revivalist party, to join in a coalition government in which Erbakan would be Ecevit's deputy prime minister. In September the MSP pulled out of the coalition. Ecevit remained prime minister at the head of another caretaker government while Korutürk vainly tried to interest Demirel in joining with the CHP in a government of national unity. In November, Korutürk persuaded Sadi Irmak, an elderly senator and an independent, to preside over a nonparty government and prepare the country for an early general election. Irmak's failure to obtain a parliamentary vote of confidence created a parliamentary crisis that left Turkey without a stable, majority-based government for more than a year, during which time economic conditions continued to deteriorate, fanning unrest around the country. Late in 1974, four of the five right-of-center parties in the Grand National Assembly--the AP, MSP, MHP, and RRP--formed an opposition bloc, called the National Front. In March 1975, the National Front parties joined in a minority coalition government under Demirel's premiership. Despite its ineffectiveness, the National Front coalition managed to struggle along for two years, maintaining a slim parliamentary majority dependent on support from independents.

Trading on Ecevit's enormous popularity, in the 1977 election the CHP increased its share of the vote to more than 40 percent and remained the largest party in the Grand National Assembly. However, the 213 seats that it won were still insufficient to form a single-party government. The AP had also improved its standing by taking back some of the votes lost to other right-wing parties in 1973; it returned 189 deputies. MSP representation was cut in half, to twenty-four seats, and the Democratic Party was reduced to one seat. The MHP, however, nearly doubled its vote and elected sixteen deputies. Despite its electoral success, the CHP failed to form a governing coalition.

At length Demirel put together another right-of-center government, linking the AP with the MSP and the MHP in a coalition that depended on a four-seat majority. But the inducements that he offered to assure cooperation caused concern within the liberal wing of his own party. Under the arrangement, responsibility for key areas of concern--public order, the economy, and social reform--was divided among the three party leaders. Demirel was assigned internal security, Erbakan the economy, and Türkes social affairs, including education. Each leader expected to exercise exclusive authority in his particular area, but the arrangement soon proved unworkable. Meanwhile, groups identified with one of the coalition partners, the MHP, were among the principal instigators of the mounting political violence.

Anger and frustration at the government's ineffectiveness in dealing with the economy and restoring public order led to an erosion of support from liberal AP deputies. On the last day of 1977, the Demirel government was defeated on a vote of confidence in which a dozen AP deputies sided with the CHP opposition. The party leaders having ruled out a "grand coalition," President Korutürk turned to Ecevit to lead a new government, which was backed by a four-seat parliamentary majority.

The Ecevit administration was crisis-ridden from the start. The prime minister's attempt to combine regard for civil liberties with tougher law-and-order measures satisfied no one, least of all the military and the police. In December 1978, the government was forced to proclaim martial law in thirteen provinces in reaction to a serious outbreak of sectarian violence. The calm imposed by martial law was only temporary, and in April 1979, the government extended legal restrictions.

Ecevit resigned in October 1979, after the CHP lost ground to the AP in by-elections, and advised President Korutürk to summon Demirel to replace him. Demirel rejected Ecevit's subsequent proposal for a "grand coalition" and chose instead to put together a technocratic government whose members were selected for their competence rather than their political affiliation. Subsidies to state enterprises were reduced as part of a plan for restructuring, but attempts to rationalize the workforce and control labor costs were challenged by the trade unions in a series of strikes. Demirel countered by extending martial law still further, imposing severe curbs on union activity, and restricting public assembly. Meanwhile, military leaders made no secret of their uneasiness at the growing influence that religious sectarianism was having on politics in obvious defiance of the constitution.

President Korutürk's seven-year term in office expired in April 1980. After 100 ballots, the joint session of the Grand National Assembly failed to agree on a successor. Korutürk retired on schedule, and the chairman of the Senate, Ihsan Sabri Çaglayangil, was installed as acting president of the republic. Çaglayangil could do little more than provide the signature necessary for the enactment of legislation.

Data as of January 1995

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