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Turkish coalition totters as election talk grows

Evevit: "The political problems that exist here ... could exist in any country."  

ISTANBUL, Turkey (CNN) -- Hinting Monday that his fragile ruling coalition could collapse soon, Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said there could be a change of government.

Meanwhile, parliament has decided to meet a month earlier than scheduled to consider early elections and to help speed Turkey's effort to join the European Union.

In an interview with CNN, Ecevit said it doesn't appear "feasible" that his coalition government will last through the official five-year term that ends in 2004.

But he and said much of the talk about his bad health, which has added to political uncertainty, has been based on "misconceptions," and he expressed optimism about Turkey's political stability.

"I am afraid we will have some turbulence for some time," Ecevit said. "But it won't cause any real harm to Turkey, because democracy has settled down and our economy has started improving after a long period of crisis."

Resignations by parliament and Cabinet members from Ecevit's Democratic Left party, which began last week, have risen to 48.

The exodus has been spurred in part by calls for early elections by Devlet Bahceli, the nationalist leader whose party is one of the three in the coalition government.

Bahceli has called for elections in November. The Motherland Party is calling for elections in September. Elections are scheduled for 2004. The Democratic Left, the nationalists and the Motherland Party comprise the ruling coalition.

CNN's Jerrold Kessel talks to embattled Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit about the political uncertainty he's facing (July 15)

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Parliament was ordered to reconvene from its summer break on September 1 -- a month earlier than scheduled -- to consider whether to hold new national elections. The recall by parliament speaker Omer Izgi came at the urging of the nationalists.

Observers say an alternative to early elections would be the reconstitution of the ruling coalition.

One scenario could involve a coalition that wouldn't include the nationalists but would be composed of the new party being formed by Ismail Cem, who resigned from his post as foreign minister last week, the Motherland Party, and the True Path Party, led by former Prime Minister Tansu Ciller.

Either way, the session also is seen as a way of showing the commitment of Turkey's various parties to meeting the conditions the EU has set for Turkey to gain membership, including abolishing the death penalty and granting more rights to minority Kurds.

Waiting for a new election would mean postponing the reforms until next year. The special session of parliament might speed up the process.

Those reforms have contributed to the instability of Ecevit's government.

There also has been much controversy over Ecevit's health. He is 77 and has suffered from a number of ailments over the past several months. The defections have been caused in part by Ecevit's refusal to leave the prime minister's post.

Ecevit also told the Milliyet newspaper in an interview published Monday that he would leave his post if Economy Minister Kemal Dervis is forced to resign or if he loses his majority in the 550-member parliament.

A key member of Turkey's government and the architect of the country's economic recovery, Dervis announced his resignation from the government last week but quickly rescinded it.

"It is a very interesting case, defections from my own party," Ecevit said. "I have no problems with them. They have no problems with me. For about a year there was a consistent rumor spread around the country by various circles about my health. More recently, I had some trouble.

"Now I am perfectly all right. But some of my friends have taken that too seriously and they thought that I wouldn't be able to carry on the government and they left the government. That was a misconception.

"I'm sure we can get over this mini-crisis without much harm to country or my party."

Noting the call for elections this year, Ecevit said he prefers "to see the government continue" until the end of its tenure "so we can accomplish the reforms program effectively."


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