Turkey's Reform-Minded Premier Faces Stiff Opposition
ISTANBUL — SOME Turks already call her "Turkey's Iron Lady," in reference to Britain's Margaret Thatcher.
Tansu Ciller (pronounced Chiller), Turkey's new premier-designate and only the third woman to become leader of a Muslim nation, is a tough, reform-minded economist who campaigned for her party's leadership on "hardship and sacrifices by the people."
Mrs. Ciller has promised to restructure Turkey's centralized economy and make her country an active player in international affairs. But as she prepares to shape the Cabinet, opposition to her proposed policies threatens to divide factions within her True Path Party (DYP) and disrupt the coalition government she inherited.
"The honeymoon is going to be cut short and the problems will start to be felt soon," commented the leading daily Milliyet. A diplomat here agrees: "Mrs. Ciller has scored a great success by taking over the leadership of the party and the government. But the real difficulties are starting now."
With only three years of political experience, Ciller defeated two long-serving Cabinet members at the DYP convention June 13 in the race for the party leadership. That position virtually assured her appointment as prime minister, which President Suleyman Demirel announced the following day. Mr. Demirel vacated the premiership when he became president last month following the April death of Turgut Ozal.
Many delegates at the convention said the time had come to get rid of the old guard. Many indicated that the party needed a new, youthful leader to contain its main rival, the conservative Motherland Party, which could pose a threat in municipal elections next March and possible early general elections thereafter.
"The secret of her success resides in the fact that many delegates saw her opponents as the representatives of the old system," says Ilter Turan, a social scientist. "The delegates knew what they were against. In a sense, the support for Mrs. Ciller came from that negative factor."
As state minister for the economy, Ciller proposed privatizing mismanaged state enterprises, lowering interest rates, and restricting public spending. She often blamed her opponents within the Demirel administration whenever her reforms were criticized. She vowed to continue those policies, which have gained her strong support from the business sector, in her new position.
The question now is whether she will be able to do so amid stiff opposition. Although she paid lip service at the convention to the various factions within the party, including the nationalists, the pro-Islamists, the reformists, and the conservatives, her opponents remain skeptical.
The junior partner in the government coalition, the Social Democratic Party, also has expressed disagreement with Ciller's free-market approach. A compromise along the lines that has existed during Demirel's administration would require concessions, but Ciller seems ready to stick to her views.
Ciller began talks with SDP leaders yesterday, and is expected to be sworn in within a few weeks, once her Cabinet is formed.