With the announcement that fresh general elections are to be held in Turkey next April the lifespan of the country's 55th government, now celebrating its first full year in office, looks to be firmly set. Under constitutional regulations, key ministers are now handing in their resignations, and the government as a whole will leave office at the end of the year, paving the way for an interim government that will, at least in theory, keep party hands out of administrative pockets in the run up to balloting.
On the streets, few will probably miss the 55th government. Comprised of the centre-right Motherland Party (ANAP), the centre-left Democratic Left Party (DSP) and the centre-right Democratic Turkey Party (DTP), this curious coalition has not been one of Turkey's most popular constructions. Yet, since it took office in the wake of last year's military-inspired "soft coup", which removed from office the previous pro-Islamist Welfare Party (RP)-True Path Party (DYP) coalition, "ANASOL-D", as the current government is known from the initials of its component parts, has proved to have been one of the technically more successful Turkish governments of recent times.
It did not have an auspicious start. The three-party coalition had no electoral backing -- Turkish voters having cast their ballots in December 1995 in such a way as to leave the RP the largest individual party, followed by ANAP and the DYP on roughly equal numbers. ANASOL-D has been a minority government from the beginning, dependent on the usually grudging support of the centre-left Republican People's Party (CHP) from the opposition benches to keep it in office. The price of that was the agreement to hold general elections next April, several years ahead of schedule.
Support from the military, though, was initially more enthusiastic -- after all, the generals created the conditions in which the coalition could take over. Yet the anti-fundamentalist agenda of the Turkish General Staff was not one the coalition partners were that enthusiastic to follow. ANAP in particular had always relied on traditional conservative voters, many of whom were sympathetic to Muslims protesting at military-inspired measures such as enforcement of the ban on headscarves in state institutions. This led to a series of sharp exchanges between ANAP leader and prime minister, Mesut Yilmaz, and DSP leader and deputy prime minister, Bulent Ecevit, on the one side and Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Cevik...