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Wednesday, 22 May, 2002, 18:15 GMT 19:15 UK
Ecevit's health scare leaves side effects
Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit returning to hospital
Mr Ecevit holds the Turkish coalition together

Turkey is beginning to breathe freely again.

At one point towards the end of last week it seemed that the failing health of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit might trigger a political crisis, damaging the country's hopes of an economic recovery.


At this stage it would be much nicer for Mr Ecevit to end his political career of his own free will

Bulent Arinc
Justice and Development Party
In his efforts to reassure the Turkish public that he remains capable of leading the country, Mr Ecevit has been convening cabinet meetings from his hospital bed.

The 76-year-old premier was hospitalised two weeks ago for severe stomach and back pains, and now appears to be suffering from a fractured rib and an inflamed vein in his leg.

Mr Ecevit has seemed increasingly frail and absent-minded over the past year. In public he is often seen supported by bodyguards.

Nevertheless, he continues to be a stabilising influence in Turkey's fragile three-way coalition.

Fears that the country may have reached what one newspaper referred to as "the end of the Ecevit era" caused Turkish share prices, currency and bond markets to take a dive.

No go

Despite his failing health Mr Ecevit has flatly refused to consider retirement.


The Turkish economy is still very sensitive to political issues

Funda Hanoglu
Banker
He argues that his resignation would result in the dissolution of the coalition, leading to protracted political negotiations that would have a negative effect on the economy.

This may well be the case.

But many Turks feel that continuing indecision would have even more damaging consequences.

The cabinet has been unable to meet since Mr Ecevit became ill on 4 May and opposition politicians argue that the prime minister's poor health is bringing the country to a standstill.

"At this stage it would be much nicer for Mr Ecevit to end his political career of his own free will," said Bulent Arinc of the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party.

Finance Minister Kemal Dervish, the man responsible for pushing through the IMF-backed economic reform package, believes that the Turkish economy is sufficiently robust to withstand the vagaries of any post-election horse trading.

"I don't believe an election would hurt the economy," he said. "I am against giving out that message."

It is a view echoed by senior Istanbul banker Funda Hanoglu.


I don't believe an election would hurt the economy

Kemal Dervish
Finance Minister
"Last week's market reaction was just a temporary blip," she said.

"But it shows that the Turkish economy is still very sensitive to political issues."

Economists - anxious to limit the fall-out from early election speculation - maintain that Mr Dervish's IMF backed reforms have already given the economy a stronger base and made it more resistant to sudden political upsets.

Power vacuum

But no-one is prepared to say that Mr Ecevit's departure from the political scene would leave markets completely untouched.

The prime minister has an autocratic style and exerts almost total control over his Democratic Left Party. His wife Rahsan is deputy leader.

The possibility of a power vacuum - even a temporary one - is alarming for most Turks, most of whom believe that strong central government is essential if their nation is to prosper.

Until a robust politician steps forward there is bound to be the chance that more sudden political shocks will afflict the markets causing Turks to catch their breath.

See also:

17 May 02 | Europe
08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
21 Feb 02 | Business
07 Jul 01 | Europe
29 Apr 01 | Europe
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