PRESIDENT TURGUT OZAL died suddenly in April, plunging Turkish politics into a sea of confusion and leaving his Motherland (Anap) party without its mentor. Significantly, the only politician to keep his head above water was Suleiman Demirel, whose True Path party (DYP) has nominated him as Ozal's successor.
In a first round of voting which took place in the 450-member parliament on 7 May, Demirel mustered enough votes to secure his presidency -- if not in the second round, certainly in the third which was to take place on 16 May. Under the constitution, a candidate needs a two-thirds majority in order to be elected in the first two rounds. But in the third round an absolute majority suffices.
With the support of the Social Democrats (the junior partners in the ruling coalition government), Demirel comfortably overtook three token candidates nominated by the opposition parties and received 234 votes. Kamran Inan, a Kurdish tribal leader and Motherland party deputy from Bitlis, secured 85 votes from his party, while Lufti Dogan, the pro-Islamic Refah party candidate, trailed with 46 votes. Ismail Cem of the People's Republican party came in last with 25 votes.
After spending more than 30 years on the political scene and seven terms as prime minister, Demirel, who was twice booted out by generals, feels he has more than earned his ticket to the presidential palace in Cankaya. Most ordinary Turks concur.
But critics accuse him of yielding to the seduction of a golden retirement at the expense of the country's stability. For the question of who will or can replace Demirel as party leader and prime minister remained wide open as The Middle East went to press.
Turkish political parties have traditionally been defined by personalities rather than ideology. Demirel's True Path party is no exception. It is, therefore, widely accepted that whoever becomes the new party boss and prime minister can only do so with his blessings.
And although Demirel pledges that as president he will remain an impartial figure and above party politics, few doubt that he will seek to cling to executive power from behind the scenes. This is despite his vociferous criticism of Ozal for doing just that, in particular during the early days of his presidency in the 1980s when he ruled the country through a puppet prime minister, Yildirim Akbulut.
One of the main contenders for the premiership is the Speaker of Parliament, Husammettin Cindoruk. A highly respected lawyer and an...