196. Research Study Prepared in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research1
TURKEY’S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Turkey has emerged from a prolonged constitutional crisis with a new president and prime minister. The dynamics of the changeover was a vindication and reinforcement of Turkey’s parliamentary system. This paper discusses the role of the military establishment in the political structure, as reflected in the election crisis, and the significance of that role for the forthcoming general elections.
On April 6 a constitutional crisis was resolved with the election by Parliament of a compromise candidate to the Presidency. In the three weeks of balloting that preceded Fahri Koruturk’s election, former Chief of the General Staff Gen. Faruk Gurler consistently ran a poor second to a civilian candidate backed by the Justice Party (JP). Uncertainty existed as to how far the military would go on behalf of Gurler’s candidacy.
Gurler had previously resigned from his top position in the armed forces and was appointed to the Senate, thus making him eligible for the Presidency. His election seemed assured but he ran into stiff opposition from the two largest political parties, the JP and the Republican People’s Party (RPP).
Koruturk is not a member of any political party and as a political moderate he conforms to the model of an ideal Turkish President. Although he is not viewed by the military as one of their own, he commanded the Navy until the 1960 coup that overthrew the regime of Adnan Menderes, and the military can, therefore, take some satisfaction in his election.
As the leader of the fight against Gurler’s candidacy, former Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel was the chief beneficiary of the crisis. His antipathy to a military-sponsored nominee in general, and to Gurler in particular, is understandable. DEMIREL’s JP is the spiritual descendant of the Democrat Party which was ousted by the 1960 coup. More [Page 653] recently, Gurler was deeply involved in the March 1971 “coup by memorandum” which led to DEMIREL’s resignation as Prime Minister. The memorandum demanded restoration of law and order, then under attack by leftist terrorists, and enactment of reforms long advocated by the military.
DEMIREL, however, might not have been so zealous in his opposition to Gurler’s candidacy had he not perceived a lack of enthusiasm and unanimity among the generals in their support of Gurler. DEMIREL seized this opportunity to reassert parliamentary supremacy and to call a halt to the practice of reserving the Presidency for the Chief of the General Staff.
With one exception, all of Turkey’s six Presidents have been generals. The founder of the Republic, Kemal Ataturk, bestowed on the military the twin roles of protector of the revolution he had launched and guardian of his reforms. The military was, consequently, disturbed when they perceived during the 1950s that Menderes was appealing to the “reactionary” sentiments of the peasant masses and undercutting Ataturk’s vision of a modern Turkey.
In the short run, the military coup that toppled Menderes in 1960 benefitted the RPP. As Ataturk’s party and as the purveyor of his reformist ideology, the RPP enjoyed a special relationship with the military. Over the past year or so, this relationship dissolved as Bulent Ecevit achieved leadership of the party. Ecevit headed a doctrinaire faction of the RPP that had pressed the party to adopt a “left of center” orientation. Moreover, he opposes continuation of martial law which was instituted following the “coup by memorandum” and he is regarded by the generals as being soft toward the radical left.
The new Prime Minister, Naim Talu, heads a caretaker coalition government charged with leading the nation through parliamentary elections in October 1973 and securing passage of a program of reforms deemed “essential” by the military. He could not count on much help from Koruturk to carry out his mandate since the new President, unlike his predecessors, is without a constituency.
With DEMIREL’s energetic backing, Parliament in the last days of June passed with uncharacteristic speed several key reform bills. DEMIREL’s new-found interest in reform legislation apparently is part of his strategy to forestall possible military interference with the JP’s expected triumph at the polls in October, and it is questionable how effectively he might implement the reform measures if he is elected.
A DEMIREL victory in October following Gurler’s defeat in April could be regarded as a fresh rebuff to the military. Even with the reform legislation on the books, the military would face the dilemma of allowing the man they brought down in 1971, because he had failed to secure reforms, to reassume the premiership, or to intervene once again [Page 654] in the democratic process. However, with most of the activists involved in the “coup by memorandum” now in retirement, such intervention appears to be only a remote possibility.
[Omitted here is the body of the study.]
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 15 TUR. Secret; No Foreign Dissem; Controlled Dissem. Drafted by Rotklein, cleared by Curtis Jones, and released by George Denney. A note at the bottom of the first page reads: “Aside from normal substantive exchange with other agencies at the working level; it has not been coordinated elsewhere.”↩