Bulent Ecevit Named Prime Minister Designate in Turkey

ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkish leftist leader Bulent Ecevit–veteran head of three governmen’s in the 1970s–was appointed prime minister-designate on Wednesday and said he intended to act swiftly to protect the Turkish economy.

But Recai Kutan–leader of the biggest party in parliament–the Islamist Virtue Party–in rapid reaction said Ecevit’s appointment by President Suleyman Demirel violated democratic principles.

"What is more–it is out of the question that Ecevit will win a confidence vote," he told reporters.

President Demirel invited Ecevit to form a government during a 45-meeting meeting at his Cankaya Palace–just a week after Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz’s fall in a row over corruption.

Ecevit–deputy prime minister in the outgoing administration–is one of the most recognizable figures in Turkish politics with his trademark flat cap and bristling black mustache.

He enjoys the broad respect of a military generally wary of politicians.

Ecevit declined to say how long he thought it would take him to form a government or where he would look for support.

Any government–however–is expected to be a transitional arrangement–possibly with conservative parties–to exclude Virtue and take Turkey to a general election planned for April.

"It is wrong to see this government as just an election government because there are problems that will not wait until the elections," Ecevit told reporters–holding the yellow envelope in which the president traditionally delivers his invitation.

"Particularly–we need to limit or–if possible–completely eliminate the effects on Turkey of the world economic crisis," Ecevit–head of the Democratic Left Party–said.

Turkey’s government has suffered badly from political instability–with five governmen’s falling in three years. The country can ill afford protracted wrangling in Ankara.

The influential secularist military made clear its concern this week with an implicit warning against any attempts to reach arrangemen’s with Islamist Virtue. Virtue–for its part–insists that as the biggest party it has the right to form a government.

The uncertainty over recent weeks has jolted volatile markets–brought an ambitious privatization program to a virtual standstill and dealt a blow to hopes of restructuring expensive debt commitmen’s.

Ecevit–73–espouses a peculiarly Turkish form of leftist politics struck through with a strong element of nationalism.

He has been forthright in past criticism of the European Union and been a driving force behind Turkey’s recent increasingly assertive foreign policy.

His most dramatic action during his rule in the 1970s was the order to invade Cyprus in 1974–giving way to the "Cypriot Question" which has become one of the most intractable in Europe.

Ecevit also enjoys the distinction of being a mainstream politician who has not been tainted by accusations of corruption; he is expected to exploit this to the full in his attempts to win consensus among feuding party leaders.

He might easily find common ground with current conservative caretaker Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz but would have to overcome deep personal rivals if he were to try to bring Yilmaz together with rival conservative Tansu Ciller.

Some parliamentary sources suggest that what might emerge from the current political turmoil could amount to a rebirth of the outgoing administration.

Only in this case–Deniz Baykal–head of the leftist Republican People’s Party–who brought down Yilmaz by withdrawing backing–might work within the government rather than support it from the outside.


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