ISTANBUL, Turkey — Incumbent Prime Minister Turgut Ozal, a chicken-in-every-pot conservative who pledges rapid modernization as a major American ally, appeared to gain a powerful new mandate here Sunday in Turkey's freest elections in a decade.
Ozal's center-right Motherland Party easily outdistanced six opponents on both the left and the right to win control of an expanded 450-seat Parliament for a five-year term. The voting was conspicuous for its orderliness.
"Results so far show we will be the party in power alone," a jubilant Ozal told supporters Sunday night.
With about half of the 26 million votes counted early today, Ozal's broadly based party has 36% of the vote, with particularly strong showings in Istanbul, Ankara, the capital, and Izmir, Turkey's third-largest city.
Second with 24% was the center-left Social Democratic Party led by Irdal Inonu, a soft-spoken physics professor and son of a former president.
Third with 20% was the center-right True Path Party headed by Suleyman Demirel, whose last of four premierships ended in a 1980 coup. True Path was overtaken by the Social Democrats in the closing days of the campaign, according to pre-election polls.
Four other parties, including a center-left grouping led by former Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and an Islamic Fundamentalist Party at the extreme right, failed to muster a 10% minimum vote required for parliamentary representation. Ecevit was winning 8.5% and the Fundamentalists 7% early today.
Ozal, a squat, jowly 60-year-old economist, came to power at the end of military rule in 1983 with 45% of the vote and 249 of 400 parliamentary seats.
In a successful attempt to catch his opponents off-balance, Ozal called Sunday's elections one year early after a September referendum that lifted a military ban against 55 prominent politicians, including Demirel and Ecevit.
The ban was a legacy of a 1980-83 military rule triggered by left-right political violence that claimed 5,000 lives in the 1970s.
Turkey's record of military interventions and human rights abuses has weighed against the application that Ozal made earlier this year for Turkey's membership in the European Communities. In that context, with Communities observers on hand to watch the voting, the election was Ozal's attempt to dispel past shadows and project the image of a new Turkey.
Turkey, which has a long border with the Soviet Union and maintains one of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's largest armies, is also home to about 20 U.S. military bases, ranging from small electronic listening posts to Strategic Air Command airfields whose fighter-bombers are equipped with tactical nuclear weapons. An updated defense agreement is pending before the Turkish Parliament and the U.S. Congress, but foreign affairs played no major role in the election campaign.
Rather, Ozal stressed the message of domestic change, telling one rally, "There is no political tension in the country now. Martial law has been lifted. . . . We have broken the chain of economic problems that lead to political crises."
A dark horse victor in 1983, the paternalistic Ozal campaigned on his record, assuring his 52 million countrymen that "Turkey has skipped a century" under his rule. Promising a car and house for every Turkish family by century's end, Ozal says that by then Turkey, where per capita income is now only about $1,200 per year, will have caught up economically with its NATO allies in Western Europe.