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TURKEY - Profile - Bulent Ecevit.

The Prime Minister heading a three-party coalition since June 1999, Ecevit is one of the best-known figures in Turkey. In 2000, he got Judge Ahmet Necdet Sezer, 58-year-old head of the Constitutional Court, to be approved as President of the Republic to succeed Suleyman Demirel. However, this move appears to have backfired as relations between Ecevit and Sezer have deteriorated sharply.

Their relations hit the lowest point in February 2001, with a public quarrel between Ecevit and Sezer which involved among other things the latter accusing the premier of tolerating corruption. That, in turn, acted as the spark which set off a downward economic spiral. The Turkish lira lost more than a third of its value against the US dollar as foreign investors pulled out over fears that the government, the most stable one the country has seen in years, was about to collapse. The flight of capital was so dramatic that the government was forced to devalue the Turkish lira by abandoning a currency peg linking it to the US dollar.

Challenges for Ecevit worsened as, in March and in April, thousands of people took to the streets to demonstrate against an IMF-backed austerity plan, designed to tackle the country's fiscal crisis, with running battles between police and protestors. Yet throughout the crisis Ecevit retained the backing of the military establishment, which remains the ultimate authority in Turkey. The reasons for this support may have much to do with the fact that Ecevit, a staunch nationalist and Kemalist, is the military's favourite type of politician at the moment. Many observers have noted that there are no other worthy political leaders on the scene who would have a national standing on the same level as Ecevit (see APS Diplomat's News Service No. 19).

Ecevit and his coalition partners, sticking together in what has proved to be the most popular government in many years, have managed to forge a bold economic reform programme, which has won the blessing of the IMF and widespread support in the financial markets. In December 1999 his government got a green light from the European Union for Turkey to be an official candidate for EU membership.

Ecevit is a journalist by profession and politician for four decades. He leads the Democratic Left Party (Demokratik Sol Parti, DSP), which was the main winner of the April 1999 parliamentary elections. A social democrat and secularist at heart, he has been strongly opposed to the Islamists.

Born in May 1925 in Istanbul, Ecevit is the son of the late Prof. Fahri Ecevit, who taught forensic medicine at Ankara University and was later elected to parliament. Bulent's mother, Nazli, was a professional painter. Bulent studied at Robert College in Istanbul and pursued further education at the University of London and Harvard University. Ecevit was a state employee between 1944-1950. He served at the Turkish press attache's office in London from 1946 to 1950. Between 1950-1961, he served as foreign news editor, managing editor, and political director of 'Ulus' newspaper. In 1957, he entered politics as an MP for the Republican People's Party (CHP). He kept his seat until 1980, also serving as a member of the Constituent Assembly from 1961. He became prime minister in January 1974 and ordered the invasion of Cyprus in July of that year.

Ecevit's government collapsed in November 1974. He again served as prime minister in June-July 1977, and in 1978-79. He resigned in August 1979. Ecevit had served as secretary general of CHP from 1966 to 1971 and as its chairman from 1972 to 1980. By the early 1970s, the party's leadership had shifted to him from Ismet Inonu. However, under Ecevit, CHP was blamed by the military in 1980 for "acts of treason", because it was allowing terrorists to roam freely in the streets in the late 1970s. Ecevit was detained after the military coup of September 1980 and released in the following month. He was barred from participating in political life for ten years - as in the case of Demirel, then his arch-opponent - but his rehabilitation occurred in the mid-1980s.

Ecevit formed the DSP on Nov. 14, 1985 with his wife Rahssan Ecevit as its chairwoman. He married Rahssan (Aral), a classmate from the American College for Girls, in 1946. DSP lost in the 1987 general elections, as it could not secure a single seat in the National Assembly. Admitting his dismal defeat, Ecevit said he would leave politics. But he persevered and his showing in the December 1995 elections was impressive, giving him an important say in Turkish politics. But he and his party remained largely on the sidelines for the next three years.

In November 1998, the government of Mesut Yilmaz collapsed under corruption charges, and Ecevit became prime minister. In the general elections held on April 18, 1999, Ecevit's DSP was the main winner and got 136 of parliament's 550 seats. The hardline Nationalist Action Party (MHP) of Devlet Bahceli came in second with 129 seats and Yilmaz's Motherland Party (ANAP) only got 86 seats. The three parties formed an alliance and, as President Demirel re-appointed Ecevit to the premiership in May, their government was announced.

Ecevit's government this time had a formidable majority. On June 9, 1999 it won parliament's vote of confidence by a margin of 354 to 182. While Yilmaz stayed out of the cabinet, Ecevit was very generous in allocating portfolios among the three partners. He gave them most of the important posts, with his DSP taking 13 portfolios, MHP having 12 and ANAP taking ten. Bolstered by the weakness of the opposition, Ecevit's cabinet then got parliament to approve bold reforms and a key constitutional amendment allowing international arbitration.

Ecevit's government has since overcome huge challenges. The Aug. 17, 1999 earthquake which killed tens of thousands of people and a subsequent tremor caused losses of almost $8 bn and a deep recession. But the economic challenges continue to prove extremely daunting, and it remains to be seen whether Ecevit will be able to repeat his 1999 electoral performance.

Ecevit is a world famous politician, with his wife Rahssan remaining the deputy head of DSP. He is equally famous for his journalistic career. His views on the region are widely respected. He was one of the few foreigners allowed to meet and interview Saddam Hussein before the latest Gulf war broke out following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. His leisure interests are art and literature. He has been a member of the Turkish Philosophical Society, the Turkish Language Association and the Ankara Journalist Association. His publications include: "The System Must Change", 1968; "Ataturk and Revolution", 1970; "Foreign Policy", 1975. A lover of poems, he has translated German and Romanian poems in "Siirler", published in 1976. He has also translated into Turkish the works of T.S. Eliot ("Cocktail Party") and Indian Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore ("Gitanjali" and "Straybirds").
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Publication:APS Diplomat Operations in Oil Diplomacy
Geographic Code:7TURK
Date:May 28, 2001
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