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In line for succession.

PRESIDENT TURGUT OZAL died suddenly in April, plunging Turkish politics into a sea of confusion and leaving his Motherland (Anap) party without its mentor. Significantly, the only politician to keep his head above water was Suleiman Demirel, whose True Path party (DYP) has nominated him as Ozal's successor.

In a first round of voting which took place in the 450-member parliament on 7 May, Demirel mustered enough votes to secure his presidency -- if not in the second round, certainly in the third which was to take place on 16 May. Under the constitution, a candidate needs a two-thirds majority in order to be elected in the first two rounds. But in the third round an absolute majority suffices.

With the support of the Social Democrats (the junior partners in the ruling coalition government), Demirel comfortably overtook three token candidates nominated by the opposition parties and received 234 votes. Kamran Inan, a Kurdish tribal leader and Motherland party deputy from Bitlis, secured 85 votes from his party, while Lufti Dogan, the pro-Islamic Refah party candidate, trailed with 46 votes. Ismail Cem of the People's Republican party came in last with 25 votes.

After spending more than 30 years on the political scene and seven terms as prime minister, Demirel, who was twice booted out by generals, feels he has more than earned his ticket to the presidential palace in Cankaya. Most ordinary Turks concur.

But critics accuse him of yielding to the seduction of a golden retirement at the expense of the country's stability. For the question of who will or can replace Demirel as party leader and prime minister remained wide open as The Middle East went to press.

Turkish political parties have traditionally been defined by personalities rather than ideology. Demirel's True Path party is no exception. It is, therefore, widely accepted that whoever becomes the new party boss and prime minister can only do so with his blessings.

And although Demirel pledges that as president he will remain an impartial figure and above party politics, few doubt that he will seek to cling to executive power from behind the scenes. This is despite his vociferous criticism of Ozal for doing just that, in particular during the early days of his presidency in the 1980s when he ruled the country through a puppet prime minister, Yildirim Akbulut.

One of the main contenders for the premiership is the Speaker of Parliament, Husammettin Cindoruk. A highly respected lawyer and an old party hand, he first shot to prominence when he defended the former conservative prime minister Aydin Menderes, who was deposed and later hung by the Turkish military in the early 1960s.

An outspoken advocate of the democratisation process, Cindoruk has been Demirel's most loyal ally, undemurringly handing him the party reins when a ban on politicians active before the 1980 coup was lifted after a referendum held in 1987.

But he has reaped a poor reward for his devotion. In the 1987 parliamentary election, fearing his growing strength within the DYP, Demirel forced Cindoruk to run from Istanbul knowing full well that he would not win a seat.

After the DYP came to power in the 1991 elections, Cindoruk was conspicuously left out of the cabinet and given the largely ceremonial post of Speaker instead. Even so, Cindoruk still commands considerable grass-roots support within the party. Political analysts say with Demirel's backing his victory would be a foregone conclusion.

But Cindoruk has made it abundantly clear that he would not tolerate interference from above, saying the president's powers must be curbed. In a recent interview with the daily Millivet, Cindoruk did not mince his words. "There cannot be a prime minister who is dependent on the president. And personal guarantees (of non-interference) are not enough. If I come to power I will form my own cabinet."

It is not likely to include one of his would-be rivals, Cavit Caglar, the millionaire businessman-turned-politician from Bursa who put his fortune and private jet at Demirel's disposal during the 1991 election campaign.

Sources close to the DYP say Demirel was grooming Caglar to succeed him, appointing him as minister of state responsible for government banks, one of the most powerful portfolios in the cabinet.

But from the start, Caglar has been dogged by allegations of corruption. In particular, he is being accused by the main opposition Motherland party of using his position to have billions of Lira in debt wiped away by the state-owned Agricultural Credit Bank.

Another contender is the state economy minister and the only female member of the cabinet, Tansu Ciller. A former economics professor at Bogazici university, the highly photogenic and equally ambitious Ciller enjoys in her own words a "father-daughter" relationship with Demirel and is thought to have the backing of many industrialists.

But Ciller's good looks, good English and good connections may not be enough to win over sufficient delegates to carry her to victory during an extraordinary DYP congress that needs to be held within a maximum of 45 days after Demirel becomes president.

In the event, the interior minister, Ismet Sezgin may emerge as a compromise candidate. Like Cindoruk, he is a veteran party member and enjoys strong grassroots support. Unlike Cindoruk, he has a smooth working relationship with Demirel.

At the same time, as interior minister, Sezgin has adopted a tough line on the Kurdish rebellion. Nor has he wasted any time in making political capital of the ceasefire announced last March.

Political observers say, however, that the main issue is not who will become prime minister, but rather whether the coalition government can survive the full length of its five-year term. More important, can the DYP remain intact without Demirel?

There is strong pressure from business circles for the two main right-wing parties, the DYP and Anap to unite. Cindoruk has said that should he come to power, he will not necessarily view the Social Democrats as indispensable coalition partners. "The Social Democrats are the third strongest party in parliament, the leading party (DYP) and the second strongest (Anap) could form a coalition government."

Such talk unnerves the Social Democrat party (SHP) leader, Erdal Inonu, who overrode rank and file opposition to endorse Demirel's candidacy for the presidency. It can only serve to strengthen the hand of Deniz Baykal who along with 20 other members of parliament broke away from the SHP last year to form his own left of centre People's Republican party. Hopes in the Baykal camp are that if the SHP is left out of any future government this will cause enough discontent for all its members to defect en masse to their party.

The chances are that, in order to survive, Inonu will throw his weight behind whoever Demiral endorses as a candidate. If Demirel can withstand growing pressure not to oppose Cindoruk, then political analysts say the coalition government can limp along with an alternative prime minister for another year at least. If not, fresh elections may be in the offing. That may be not such a bad outcome. After all only a few years ago the slightest hint of political instability was enough to spark off fears of another military takeover. No longer so.
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Title Annotation:Suleiman Demirel as the next president of Turkey
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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