ANKARA (Reuter)–Turkish President Suleyman Demirel on Thursday kicked off a difficult bid to find a new government following the fall of Necmettin Erbakan–edged out of office in an army anti-Islamist campaign.
Demirel met main opposition leader Mesut Yilmaz–one of the main contenders to fill the prime minister’s seat–for an hour of talks at the presidential palace.
"I told him I was ready to take on the responsibility," Yilmaz–head of the conservative Motherland Party–told reporters after the meeting.
The president later met other opposition leaders but was tightlipped on his choice of a leader to forge a new coalition government from the splintered parliament.
Yilmaz’s conservative rival Tansu Ciller has also been tipped as likely to get the nod from the president but there are no certainties.
Shares in Istanbul closed 2.3 percent higher on hopes Erbakan’s resignation on Wednesday would end months of political turmoil that has dogged the markets and hamstrung government efforts to balance the budget.
Erbakan stepped down after persistent accusations he was trying to slowly dissolve NATO member Turkey’s official secularist system and create an Islamic state similar to Iran.
"Turkey needs a government that can protect the system and make it flourish," said Yilmaz–a former prime minister.
The opposition leader–who has 129 members of parliament in the 550-seat parliament–could struggle to find coalition allies if Demirel named him as prime minister designate.
Ciller said her opponents in the scramble for the top job did not have the support to win a confidence vote in parliament.
"They have not established a majority and it is not clear who would be their prime minister," Foreign Minister Ciller told a news conference.
She has the backing of Erbakan’s Islamists for a plan to head a caretaker administration and take Turkey to early polls.
"The 55th government will be an election government. Parliament will take this decision," said Ciller–the Islamists’ coalition partner for the last year.
A revamped alliance headed by Ciller would command the support on paper of 282 parliamentarians in the 550-member assembly.
But anti-Islamist members of her True Path Party have threatened to abandon her if she does not make a complete break with Erbakan–who stays on as caretaker prime minister for the time being.
The Islamist-led coalition–set up only a year ago–collapsed in a secularist onslaught led by the generals.
The staunchly secularist military said it would press ahead with its anti-Islamist campaign despite Erbakan’s resignation. "The mission of the Turkish armed forces of protecting the Turkish republic’s unity against the threat of fundamentalism is still valid and continuing," a senior military official told Reuters.
The army–which has a history of direct intervention in politics–has openly pledged its readiness to turn back any threat to Turkey’s secular order "by force of arms" – talk that has alarmed close NATO ally the United States.
Demirel–a veteran politician whose post is mostly symbolic–has given no clues as to how he will deal with the government crisis.
"He is playing his cards close to his chest," Yavuz Donat–a journalist close to the president–told Reuters.
Demirel has the power to appoint his own caretaker administration and call elections himself if his appointee fails to come up with a feasible government formula in 45 days.