OBG: Over the last year, the coalition government weathered significant problems. What have been the government’s most significant achievements?
ECEVIT: During the three-year term of the government, important steps have been taken in line with our government’s resolve in ensuring the stability of democratic institutions and improving our human rights record. To that end, a number of amendments to the Constitution were adopted last year, introducing new provisions in such areas as freedom of thought and expression, privacy, freedom of association and gender equality. Subsequently, three harmonisation packages were enacted in order to align several laws with the constitutional amendments. With the last package adopted in August the death penalty was abolished, legal restrictions on learning different languages and dialects traditionally spoken by Turkish citizens were removed, as were legal restrictions on broadcasting in these languages and dialects.
The passing of these reforms was made possible by the government's success in fighting separatist terrorism. Separately, we used every opportunity to explain to our European counterparts that the PKK's successor, KADEK, should also be included in the EU's list of terrorist organisations, just as the PKK and DHKP-C are. The September 11th terrorist attacks painfully demonstrated the necessity of security, a fact which Turkey has persistently stressed. In line with this approach, we were among the first to take an active part in the anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan. Furthermore, Turkey has assumed command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan at an extremely critical juncture, and has contributed 1400 troops. Moreover, Turkey has been active in every aspect of the international effort to rebuild Afghanistan, which is helped by our deep-rooted relations with that country.
Another recent achievement, in relation to our strategic importance in the republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus, is the progress in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline project, construction of which began September 18th. Another notable achievement in the energy field is the progress in the Blue Stream Project, which will transport Russian natural gas to Turkey via an underwater pipeline in the Black Sea. The project will be finalised by the end of this year.
We have also launched a comprehensive economic restructuring programme to correct macroeconomic shortcomings responsible for serious setbacks in the past. Consequently, despite considerable difficulties, the economy began to show signs of recovery at the end of the year.
OBG: What were its biggest shortcomings?
ECEVIT: Our government, the longest running coalition government in Turkey's history, has in general ruled in harmony and cohesion. However, people have suffered under the negative impact of past economic crises. However, those crises were perhaps inevitable because of the accumulative effect of problems stemming from delayed reforms, which should have been carried out long before. Our government did not choose the easy way out by addressing those problems with quick fix solutions. Instead, we opted for lasting solutions to these problems. We have initiated comprehensive reforms in the economy, as well as in the political and social spheres.
OBG: Many have said that parliament’s passage of a series of laws that meet the Copenhagen Criteria for EU membership has put the ball back in Europe’s court on Turkey’s EU membership bid. When the answer comes from Brussels, do you envision further reforms?
ECEVIT: First of all, these laws were passed at a time when early elections for November 3rd had already been announced. No politician would take risky steps before an election unless he or she deeply believed in what they were doing.
Secondly, the pain and anger of years of terrorism on our soil has far from ebbed. The abolition of the death penalty for terrorism-related crimes was not an easy decision to take for deputies whose constituencies include a number of people whose grief could have precluded such a step. No one is denying the fact that Turkey’s EU aspirations were an important factor in spurring the passage of new laws. However, this alone cannot explain the momentous step taken on August 3rd. The difficult decisions entailed in the latest package and in the ongoing reform process in general reflect the confidence of our people in the commitment made by the EU in Helsinki to treat Turkey on the basis of the same criteria applied to other candidate states. Therefore, while a decision by the EU Council in Copenhagen to open accession negotiations with Turkey will naturally accelerate the reform process, Turkey will most certainly continue on the road of reform.
OBG: Has the economic programme achieved the results the government desired?
ECEVIT: I will answer this question with a categorical "Yes." The Turkish economy is more robust now and its overall performance more promising. Economic policymaking has become more institutionalised and economic actors are now more conscious of the importance of the implementation of the programme and the results it can deliver. We expect that this year’s real GNP growth will be 3%, while CPI inflation should decrease to the programme target of 35%. The key factor in creating strong economic indicators is the confidence factor. Our government continues to inject confidence to the markets by making assurances that the programme is on track and there will be no deviation from the programme's policies.
OBG: While many point to your health problems as leading to calls for elections, a number of divisions were already arising in the coalition. Which issues were the most divisive?
ECEVIT: The reasons behind the early elections were not due to my transitory illness.
OBG: What do you think the proposed elections for November 3rd, 2002 will achieve?
ECEVIT: I hope and wish the elections to produce a result that reflects the expectations of the Turkish public.
OBG: To what degree did international factors, such as Washington’s plans for replacing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, impact Turkish foreign and domestic political affairs?
ECEVIT: In view of Turkey’s geo-strategic location, it is inevitable that we should be preoccupied with the conflicts around us. Iraq is only one of them. Turkey neighbours Iraq and any development in Iraq has a direct impact on Turkey’s vital security and economic interests. The negative repercussions of the Gulf War on the Turkish economy are still present. A possible military operation against Iraq could deepen the economic losses to Turkey, have adverse effects on tourism, foreign trade, foreign investment, and bring a wave of refugees to our borders. Our public opinion is therefore very sensitive to the developments in Iraq.
We think that options available through the UN to resolve the Iraqi problem have not been completely exhausted. We believe that the decision of the Iraqi government to allow the return of the UN weapons inspectors is a step in the right direction. We hope the talks between Iraq and the UN will continue towards finding a resolution to the Iraqi problem in the UN and result in Iraq’s full compliance with the relevant Security Council resolutions. We would like to see an Iraq whose territorial integrity and political unity is preserved and fully and peacefully integrated into the international community.
OBG: While Turkey has expressed its displeasure with proposed strikes against Iraq, under what circumstances would Turkey support an American move against Saddam Hussein?
ECEVIT: Turkey and the US are strategic partners, and we highly value our close relationship with the United States. The two countries may have different approaches on certain issues, but the values and ideals that they support are similar. Turkey shares its views and concerns on Iraq with the US at every opportunity. As for the military option in Iraq, we have good reason to be concerned. We do not want to see yet another war or upheaval at our doorstep. We want the Iraqi problem to be settled peacefully. However, all efforts to bring the Iraqi government to full compliance with the UN Security Council resolutions should be based on international legitimacy. The Security Council has a crucial role to play in this process.
OBG: Do you believe the economic programme will continue, on course, regardless of the outcome of the proposed November 3rd poll?
ECEVIT: The Turkish economy has achieved a remarkable transformation since the crisis of February 2001. I do not believe any future government would sacrifice our gains, which have been strongly supported by the Turkish people. Additionally, the economic programme should not be cut short after so many sacrifices have been made by so many people.
Turkey’s message to the world should be clear. Determined implementation of the economic programme is the best policy for all policy makers. While strict implementation is rewarded by the markets, deviation from the programme is severely punished. Markets should rest assured that in Turkey there is a broad political consensus among the ruling coalition parties and the opposition parties on the implementation of the economic programme. Therefore, the November 3rd elections should not be expected to produce significant changes in economic policy.