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Tuesday, 16 July, 2002, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
Turkey heads for early election
Customers in a Turkish electronics shop watch Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit on TV
Mr Ecevit's poor health has aggravated the crisis
Leaders of the three parties in Turkey's coalition government have opted for early elections on 3 November in an attempt to end the country's political crisis.

The decision came after the government lost its majority in parliament, following mass defections from the party of ailing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit.


For the government to stay in power now would be in line neither with democracy nor (political) customs

Opposition leader Tansu Ciller
In the last two weeks, 59 deputies have left his Democratic Left Party (DSP), leaving the coalition government with 275 seats in the 550-seat parliament.

The election could result in a very different parliament from the present one, with the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party riding high in the polls.

The outgoing coalition is split over the human rights reforms needed to move forward Turkey's application to join the European Union and over economic reforms necessary to keep a recovery programme backed by the International Monetary Fund on track.

MHP leader Devlet Bahceli
Devlet Bahceli: Won fight for November vote
Throughout the crisis, Mr Ecevit has argued that an early election could plunge the country back into economic chaos, and jeopardise hopes of agreeing a date for EU accession talks to begin.

However, one of the coalition partners, the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), has been calling for a 3 November election, while the other, the Motherland Party, wanted them even earlier.

The vote would not normally have been due until April 2004.

Opposition struggle

Even before the government lost its majority, correspondents were saying it was unlikely to last until elections could be held.

Mr Ecevit had earlier said he would resign if he lost his majority - but the coalition leaders appear to have decided to carry on fighting.

Ismail Cem below, Bulent Ecevit above
Ismail Cem: New centrist challenger to Ecevit
"For the government to stay in power now would be in line neither with democracy nor (political) customs," said opposition leader Tansu Ciller, herself a former prime minister, in comments broadcast on NTV television.

Opposition parties and independents hold 262 seats, but not all would necessarily vote to overthrow the government. There are 13 empty seats.

Parliament is currently in recess but on Monday the speaker summoned deputies for an extraordinary session on 1 September, in order to debate possible elections.

Markets up

After their meeting, the three leaders - Mr Ecevit, Devlet Bahceli of the MHP and Mesut Yilmaz of the Motherland Party - issued a statement saying they would take the November election date to their parties for confirmation.

Mr Ecevit has been abandoned by ministers as well as deputies.

Last week, Foreign Minister Ismail Cem resigned and said he was setting up a rival party with Deputy Prime Minister Husamettin Ozkan, who also resigned, and Economy Minister Kemal Dervis.

Mr Dervis handed in his resignation, but was persuaded to stay on by President Ahmet Necdet Sezer in order to reassure financial markets and international creditors.

The markets responded to developments on Tuesday by edging slightly upwards.

Correspondents say that Turkey's secular military leaders would be deeply alarmed if a pro-Islamic party were to win the election.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jonny Dymond
"Few would dare a prediction of what a new government might look like"

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09 Jul 02 | Business
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