When Premier Bülent Ecevit took power in January, 1978, sheep were slaughtered and crowds danced in urban shantytowns. But the delight had clearly evaporated into the Turkish air by last week’s byelections which resulted in Ecevit’s replacement as premier by his perennial foe, Süleyman Demirel, leader of the right-wing Justice Party.
The extent of the victory surprised even Demirel. His party managed to grab 33 of 50 contested senate seats and, more importantly, swept all five na-
tional assembly seats at stake. That was enough to give Demirel and his National Salvation Party (NSP) and other allies 227 seatsemdash;a two-seat majority in the 450-seat assembly.
The electoral blow dealt Ecevit, who choked back tears as he announced his resignation, was the inevitable consequence of a 22-month spell in office which speeded up the country’s descent into political and economic chaos. The elements in that tragic mix: political and religious violence between rightand left-wing extremists and rival Moslem sects, which had left 2,100 dead (martial law now reigns over 19 provinces); a foreign debt of $18 billion; inflation approaching 80 per cent; and an unemployment rate of 20 per cent.
Voters went to the polls with everything from cooking oil and light bulbs to coffee in short supply. They also, no doubt, had in mind the recent resignation of three government ministersemdash; one after a right-wing paper revealed his liaison with a bosomy blonde starlet connected to the opposition.
Sex scandals apart, Turkey’s future under Demirel looks little brighter because of the new premier’s dependence on the NSP (22 seats), a group dedicated to unravelling the modernization of Turkey in the name of Islamic purity. In fact Demirel may turn out to be no more than a caretaker premier, pushing for elections next spring (instead of 1981) in a bid to increase his winnings. There is no guarantee, however, that those
elections would give Demirel the majority needed to permit decisive action against the country’s woes. So the military may well decide it is time to step in again to clamp down on the quarreling politicians. That has happened twice in the past 20 yearsemdash;without solving any of Turkey’s problems.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.