Turkey’s political crisis deepened Thursday with the departure of the foreign minister and the attempted resignation of the finance minister, who was later persuaded to remain in his post. Seven ministers and more than 40 MPs (around one-third of the party’s total) left the ruling Democratic Left Party (DSP) this week in an attempt to persuade 77-year-old Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit to resign. Ecevit’s stubborn refusal to step down or to agree to an early election, despite a serious illness that has kept him virtually confined to his home since May, has left the government deadlocked and unable to resolve the country’s problems. These include: financial insolvency, as the IMF-backed economic stabilization plan seems doomed to failure; the likelihood that the United States will require Turkish involvement and support for a potentially unpopular military action against neighboring Iraq; tricky negotiations with Greece about a settlement for divided Cyprus; and delicate relations with the European Union, with Turkey needing to scrap its death penalty and improve human rights for its Kurdish population before the EU bureaucrats will give a date for the start of membership talks.
Switzerland’s Le Temps said Thursday’s developments were the “fatal blow” for Ecevit, since he was the focus of “all the resentments of those who denounce the absence of democratic reforms, the slowness of European progress, and especially the calamitous management of the most serious recession in 50 years.” It concluded, “[Ecevit] doesn’t seem to have any alternative but to call an early election.” Nevertheless, the prime minister seems to have no intention of doing so, announcing this week that he would stay on until the end of his term in 2004. According to the Turkish Daily News, it is constitutionally “difficult to bring down the government, even more difficult to set up a new one.”
Three of this week’s high-profile DSP defectors seemed to make the first moves toward creating a new pro-European party Friday, and the Financial Times said “the new alliance stands a good chance of coming to power if it can enlist more political heavyweights and explain clearly what it offers for the man on the street.” In an op-ed headlined “Turkey Adrift,” France’s Le Figaro suggested that Ecevit was resisting calling an election because he feared it would open the way for the Islamist parties. It concluded, “Facing a crisis that endangers one of the rare secular Muslim states, Europe cannot remain indifferent.” A London Times commentary offered another reason an early vote is unlikely: “[M]any of the MPs likely to lose their seats will try to delay elections, if possible until next May, by which time they will be entitled to their salaries for the fifth and last year of the term.”