ISTANBUL (Reuter)–Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan–his coalition deteriorating by the day–warned secularist critics on Monday that his Islam-based Welfare Party would emerge stronger than ever from any fresh elections.
As pressure mounted on Erbakan to step down at once to make way for an "election" government–modern Turkey’s first Islamist leader said Welfare was poised to collect 10 million votes–up from a slim plurality of about six million in 1995.
And he vowed that overwhelmingly-Moslem Turkey without Welfare at its head could never be truly democratic. "We got some six million votes last time. If we had an election now we would get at least 10 million," Erbakan told foreign correspondents at a rare briefing. Erbakan fired off the first round of his unofficial election campaign as his putative partners–the pro-Western True Path Party–pushed him to implement an earlier agreement and hand over power to True Path leader Tansu Ciller.
"In the next one or two days–the 54th government will come to an end–Erbakan will resign. In such an environment–the thing to do is to form an election government," Ciller told a group of business leaders in the capital Ankara.
However–political analysts said Erbakan might insist on a firm election date–probably in October or November–before he would surrender power voluntarily to his rival-turned-partner.
The Istanbul stocks closed almost unchanged from Friday’s close as investors chose to wait and see if the coalition could pull off the job swap.
A Welfare spokesman’said the party had agreed to hand power to Ciller this week–but at an unspecified price.
"We have reached an agreement to leave office on June 18. There are–of course–conditions," spokesman Oguzhan Asilturk told a news conference. He did not list the conditions.
Turkey’s highest court is weighing charges that could close down Welfare altogether as "unconstitutional."
The restive armed forces–who have deposed three civilian governmen’s in four decades–have made no effort to hide their displeasure with the Islamists.
Last week–they threatened to use "force of arms" to defend their secular ideals.
The army last week told senior civil servants and the media that political Islam was backed by Islamist business. Islamist companies launched an advertising campaign to defend themselves.
"It is a very serious mistake to show us among the so-called ?companies helping fundamentalism’ in newspapers and on TVs," read a full-page advertisement by Yimpas Holding–a flourishing food retailer–in many newspapers.