Turkey Headed To November Polls


Economic News

22 Jul 2010
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Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit removed his longstanding opposition to early elections, with the coalition announcing on July 16th that they had agreed to hold polls on November 3rd.

The decision came after six more deputies defected from Ecevit's Democratic Left Party (DSP), leaving the government below the technical 276 threshold required to rule. A total of 60 deputies have quit the DSP since last week.

"The coalition leaders have reached consensus on holding an early general election on November 3rd, 2002," a short statement after the meeting read.

It is unclear if the current government will make it to the November polls, with opposition True Path Party (DYP) leader Tansu Ciller saying the coalition "is no longer legal" because it had lost its majority. She called on Ecevit to resign.

Eyes have now turned to Ankara's fledgling European Union bid.

There is concern that an ineffective government might not be able to push through the needed reforms ahead of an October review of the country's progress on EU-demanded reforms, including scrapping the death penalty and lifting curbs on minority rights for the country's Kurds.

But there are signs form the opposition that parliament could be recalled as early as July to debate the languishing reforms, but observers question whether the country can make the changes given the political uncertainty and the tight timeframe.

Ismail Cem announced his resignation from Ecevit's DSP and his post as foreign minister on July 11th. Cem's decision to quit the party was the most severe blow to Ecevit in a week that saw a mass defection of parliamentary deputies from the DSP.

The following day, on July 12th, Cem explained his decision to resign, and announced a new political movement that the press is referring to as the "troika," the grouping of Husamettin Ozkan - Ecevit's erstwhile right hand who led the mass exodus of the DSP - and Kemal Dervis, the economy minister.

Cem said the trio would form a new social democratic party that would lead Turkey to EU membership.

"We are determined to take the necessary steps [to joining the European Union]. One of the most important factors of our political party and ruling plan is Turkey's achieving its target of full EU membership and … its fulfilling the necessary political and economic criteria," Cem said.

The three have strong support in the country's metropolitan western cities, but it is unclear how they will fair in rural areas come election time. However, Cem has done well in the Central Anatolian town of Kayseri, the town he represents in parliament.

Ecevit remained defiant despite mounting pressure to step down.

"We must continue with this government until the end," Ecevit said in a live television interview following Cem's announcement. Elections had been scheduled for April 2004, when the current government's mandate expires, but Ecevit acknowledged the possibility that polls could be moved up.

Ecevit has been unable to carry out his day-to-day duties since early May, when he was treated for the first of several ailments, and pressing reforms aimed at EU membership have languished in his absence.

Ankara - long aspiring for inclusion in the 15-member EU - has been unable to make progress on reforms demanded by Brussels. Debate on controversial measures that would ease curbs on the use of the Kurdish language in education and broadcasting and abolish the death penalty have been stifled by political infighting.

Turkey risks missing the next wave of entries.

And the economy, in the grip of a crisis that saw the value of the lira nearly halved, is suffering amidst the uncertainty.

The dollar flirted with an all-time low to the dollar on July 11th with news that Dervis had also resigned, though he quickly reversed his decision at the urging of President Ahmet Necdet Sezer.

Dervis, brought in from the World Bank last year to oversee the economy, is widely credited with steering the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) biggest debtor towards economic recovery and he is popular in international financial circles.

But his presence in a coalition that he has openly defied has put added pressure on the government.

Sevket Bulent Yahnici, MHP deputy general manager, made his position on Dervis's presence clear in the July 15th edition of Hurriyet

"Dervis’ continuing in the Cabinet is like inviting the Greek Chief of General Staff to a meeting of the country's National Security Council (MGK) discussing Cyprus," he said.

The huge IMF-backed stabilisation package, worth $16bn, is meant to wrest the country from its worse crisis since 1945, but observers fear the programme could be knocked off track by the current political crisis.

A visiting IMF delegation is in the country, and the fund has said that the next $1.1bn loan tranche could be considered as early as August depending on the results of its current inspection.

The spectre of a snap election has been on the horizon for some time, and both of Ecevit's coalition partners have come out in favour of early polls.

Devlet Bahceli, deputy prime minister and leader of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), turned on Ecevit on July 7th, calling for elections on November 3rd. Mesut Yilmaz, the third member of the coalition and leader of the Motherland Party (ANAP), is also in favour of early polls.

And Tansu Ciller, the head of the opposition True Path Party (DYP), said on July 14th that parliament should be recalled from its recess for July 22nd to set an election date of December.

"Everybody who wants to take a step in the path of the European Union should support our motion," she said in a written statement.

The troika has received extensive press since the three men met on July 10th at a closed dinner. The three are favoured by supporters of EU membership and business circles; and outside the country by those keen to see Ankara stay true to its IMF commitments. But it remains to be seen whether the troika can sustain the buzz surrounding it, and whether that will translate into votes come November.

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