Turkey’s Dervis Under Pressure to Join Party

ISTANBUL (Reuters)–Former Turkish Economy Minister Kemal Dervis was under pressure from all sides on Monday to commit himself to a political party after he makes a final push to unite feuding groups ahead of November elections.

Dervis–architect of a multi-billion-dollar IMF rescue pact–resigned on Saturday–pledging to seek an alliance of centre-left parties. Many fear continuation of the divisions that have beset Turkish politics for decades could open the doors of power to a party viewed by the military as an Islamist threat.

"We’re running late–Kemal," ran the headline in the mass-circulation Milliyet newspaper–looking forward to the November 3 polls.

Markets and media are tracking the former World Bank bureaucrat’s every move. If he manages to build a broad electoral alliance–it could help bring stable government to Turkey–a European Union membership candidate.

But the mastermind of Turkey’s attempts to recover from economic crisis has yet to tie himself to a single party–despite widespread expectations he will join the New Turkey Party (YTP) of former Foreign Minister Ismail Cem–itself formed by some 60 defectors from Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit’s party.

He gave nothing away at a brief ceremony in Ankara to hand over the reins of the economy to his replacement–Masum Turker.

"Turkey is going through political transformation–looking for its political future," Dervis said–calling Turker’s appointment "an important piece of good fortune for Turkey."

Dervis held private talks with YTP leaders Cem and Husamettin Ozkan as well as one of Turkey’s most prominent opinion pollsters on Sunday. Newspapers said the YTP leaders had urged Dervis to join up as soon as possible.

"I want to exhaust the possibilities of alliances. Give me two more days," the Hurriyet newspaper quoted Dervis as saying–citing sources at the talks. "I am with you–but I want to do all I can to prevent a single vote being wasted."

Opinion polls ahead of the election show a range of centrist parties close to the 10 percent minimum of the national vote needed to win seats in parliament.

If they fall below the barrier it would hand a stronger position to the Justice and Development Party (AKP)–whose Islamist roots inspire mistrust in many middle-class Turks–the far-right Nationalist Action Party and the powerful military.

Markets Impatient

"The decision Dervis will make is important for Turkey. Everyone is now waiting for that decision," Anatolian news agency quoted Mehmet Ali Bayar–leader of the small centrist Democratic Turkey Party–as saying. The party has already agreed to work with the YTP.

Markets–too–are tracking Dervis’s every move.

"The market expects news from Dervis in one or two days on which party he’ll join. A delay could increase the discomfort," said a trader on the foreign exchange market.

Shares fell two percent on Monday–but Dervis drew attention to the fact that markets were dealing with the uncertainties of elections calmly and without panic.

"But it is important not to upset this newly establishing confidence in markets and our people," he said.

Dervis–who has never held an elected office–casts himself as an outsider in Turkey’s turbulent politics. "I’m an economist–not a politician," he said in his resignation speech.

Dervis stresses the need to overcome Turkey’s fragmented political system–in which many parties are often divided less by policy than by the personal rivalries of leaders who wield huge power and sometimes serve for life.

"It is crucial to achieve unity on the centre-left… I need to be outside party for a while longer to achieve that," the Milliyet newspaper quoted Dervis as saying.

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