ANKARA (Reuter)–Turkey’s president Friday handed secularist Mesut Yilmaz the difficult task of forging a new coalition to keep the embattled Islamists out of power.
"The president gave Yilmaz the responsibility to form a government that will defuse the current tension in the country," President Suleyman Demirel’s office said in a statement.
Yilmaz–50–will now have to patch together an alliance from squabbling secularist leaders to replace the collapsed coalition of Necmettin Erbakan–modern Turkey’s first Islamist leader.
Erbakan–hounded by the anti-Islamist army–stepped down this week in what he thought would be a smooth transfer of power to his pro-Western deputy that would let the Islam-based Welfare Party stay in office.
But the presidential appointment has raised the prospect of the Islamists returning to the opposition benches.
"The president’s behavior was wrong," Erbakan said in commen’s broadcast on the NTV television channel. "The worst thing about it is that the parliamentary majority has not been taken into account," he said.
Yilmaz has just 129 parliamentarians in the 550-seat parliament compared to Erbakan’s proposed government alliance–led by coalition ally Tansu Ciller–which can show 282 deputies–at least on paper.
But Demirel–a veteran of political in-fighting–relied on Turkish political tradition and turned to Yilmaz as leader of the second-biggest faction in parliament after Erbakan himself.
Yilmaz–a staid conservative–was confident he could hammer together a cabinet list by June 30 to lead the country to early polls next spring.
"In nine days–that is the second Monday from now–I will give the government list to the president," he said. He was not expected to invite the Islamists into a new coalition.
Two leftist parties have said they were prepared to back Yilmaz in an "Islamist-free" coalition–but Yilmaz would still require substantial defections from a rival conservative party–led by his personal rival Ciller.
Yilmaz said he would meet the leaders of the other secularist parties including Ciller–next Tuesday.
"Hope for a new start for the country has been born," Cumhur Ersumer–a spokesman for Yilmaz’s Motherland Party told a news conference before the formal announcement. "(The Motherland Party) is ready to take over the duties of the administration."
Yilmaz–prime minister twice since 1991–went to Ankara’s main Kocatepe mosque for Friday prayers after Demirel’s invitation. A bouquet of flowers sent by a well-wisher stood outside the Yilmaz family home–witnesses said.
The Istanbul stock market index–battered by recent political chaos–ended up 2.56 percent on hopes Yilmaz would get the nod from Demirel. Trading ended before Yilmaz was nominated.
Anatolian news agency said armed forces chief General Ismail Hakki Karadayi arrived at Demirel’s residence an hour after the Yilmaz appointment for talks with the president.
The army has a long history of intervention in politics–deposing three governmen’s in the last four decades before playing a key role in forcing Erbakan out.
Top commanders have branded religious activism as "public enemy number one" for NATO member Turkey. The generals had become increasingly critical in recent weeks of Erbakan’s attempts to water down Turkey’s strict secularism.