By Pelin Turgut, Special to Arab News
Wednesday 17 July 2002
Last Update 17 July 2002 12:00 am
ISTANBUL, 17 July — Ailing Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit made a major U-turn yesterday and agreed to call early elections in November in a bid to end the political turmoil set off two months ago by his deteriorating health and subsequent refusal to step down.
“The three chairmen (of the coalition parties) have unanimously agreed on holding early general elections on Nov. 3,” read a brief statement issued after Ecevit’s talks with Devlet Bahceli of the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP) and Mesut Yilmaz of the center-right Motherland Party (ANAP). The government will now submit to Parliament a proposal for elections to be held in November when lawmakers convene for an extraordinary session on Sept. 1.
The decision came after the left-right coalition lost its majority in Parliament when six more MPs resigned from Ecevit’s Democratic Left Party (DSP), the latest to quit in a weeklong mass exodus. The government now has only half the seats it originally occupied in the 550-member assembly.
Ecevit had said he would resign if his government lost its majority but yesterday showed no sign of doing so. The coalition must now muster support from the opposition who argue that November is too late. “This government has already lost its legitimacy, why should we wait until November,” said Abdullah Gul, deputy head of the Islamist AK party.
The decision marked a U-turn for Ecevit who had insisted that polls would not be held before they were due in 2004. His nationalist partner and coalition heavyweight Bahceli has been lobbying for November elections for several days. By agreeing to November polls, Ecevit may be hoping to stay at the coalition helm until then.
But it is unclear whether Ecevit is strong enough, physically and politically, to join forces with the opposition to rush through Parliament a series of key human rights reforms sought by the European Union before its December summit if Turkey is to begin accession talks next year. A delay would be a huge setback to Ankara’s long-standing bid to join the EU. His nationalist partners are deeply suspicious of Europe, and opposed to legislative changes which include lifting all restrictions on Kurdish language education and broadcast as well as abolishing the death penalty.
The decision will undoubtedly please the opposition, which has persistently urged snap polls to end the political stalemate, triggered by Ecevit’s absence from office since early May due to ill health, and a government deadlock on reforms required under Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. But they have all come up with different dates for polls ranging from “as soon as possible” to spring next year.
Ecevit, 77, had earlier rebuffed the calls on the grounds that early elections would cost Turkey time when the country is battling its worst recession in years and trying to advance its struggling bid to join the EU. But his own coalition partners had openly voiced backing for early elections towards the end of the year.
And in a major blow to his tattered coalition, six more legislators resigned from the DSP yesterday, joining a mass rebellion in protest at Ecevit’s insistence on staying at his post. The defections left the coalition with only 275 of the 550 seats in Parliament. Ecevit, a five-time prime minister, said last week that he would quit if his government lost its hold over the 550-seat legislature, but had cast doubt on those remarks in a newspaper interview published yesterday.
Financial markets and the weak Turkish currency, battered by more than two months of political turmoil, recovered yesterday as investors’ confidence was boosted by what they saw as a sign of a breakthrough in the crisis. (The Independent)