Ciller brings wind of change to Turkey: Hugh Pope in Ankara examines what the first female Prime Minister will do - and not do - to solve the country's pressing problems

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The Independent Online
CHANGE is in the air in Turkey after the election of Tansu Ciller as the country's first female leader. Political generations are changing guard, urban priorities are eclipsing rural ones and power is shifting from the capital, Ankara, to the burgeoning financial metropolis of Istanbul.

Past adjustments in the pecking order seem minor compared with the departure of three veterans dominant in Turkish politics for a decade or more: the death in April of Turgut Ozal, the removal of Suleyman Demirel to the presidency in May, and the announcement that the Social Democrat leader, Erdal Inonu, is to quit politics by October.

New leaders are filling their places. Most dramatic was the election on Sunday of Mrs Ciller, 47, as head of the conservative True Path Party, Turkey's biggest. She will become prime minister after forming a cabinet, even though after days of reaching out, squeezing hands and changing from one dazzling suit of clothes to another, few people know how this US-educated economist will actually lead the 60 million Turks.

Superficially, western Turkey is doing well enough, but blood is flowing freely again in the south-eastern Kurdish insurgency and government finances - Mrs Ciller's ministerial responsibility for the past 20 months - are in disarray. Optimists pray that Mrs Ciller will use her readiness to take risks to get a grip on government - the coalition of the True Path and the Social Democrats that has been in power since 1991 - to stop it sweeping problems under the carpet and to keep promises to sell off or streamline the amazingly wasteful public sector.

'We don't need a prime minister. What we need is an executioner ready to take radical action, to privatise,' said an Istanbul banker, Melih Araz. 'Everybody knows what the problem is, everybody knows what the solution is. But they don't dare, they think it can't be done.'

Turkey has often let things slip until crisis point. In 1960, 1971 and 1980 changes were made under the shock treatment of military coups. Few believe that the army would want to try that again now, but with inflation rising from an annual 65 per cent, a bloated budget deficit and a worsening balance of trade due to the overvalued Turkish lira, experts say an economic crunch is looming.

For the time being, the economy is growing at 6 per cent. Small traders from the old Eastern bloc are flooding in, tourism is buoyant and the West is treating Turkey as a precious island of stability to be supported amid the conflicts of the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East. The pinch is felt mostly by fixed-wage earners and businesses squeezed out of investment markets by the government's insatiable demand for cash.

The temptation for Mrs Ciller will be to keep Turkey on the same track, especially since she faces another party congress in November and national local elections in April 1994.

'She will be mainly concerned about her image in the media,' said one European envoy. 'I doubt we'll see much action. She can only handle one dossier at a time, and if that doesn't happen to be your dossier, too bad. She just doesn't listen.'

Despite her frequent trips abroad and relationships with the World Bank, Baroness Thatcher and President Francois Mitterrand, Mrs Ciller has a reputation of knowing little and caring less about diplomacy. Pronouncing an ideology of 'nationalist reformism', she says her first trip abroad will be to Germany to support the Turks who are under attack from neo-Nazi gangs.

At home, Mrs Ciller seems unlikely to solve the problems of the 12 million Kurds, parroting the discredited line that everybody in Turkey is a Turk. Diplomats believe the army will have free rein to pursue a military solution to the problem that has failed to work for nearly nine years, during which 6,100 people have died.

But Mrs Ciller has advantages. She will have a honeymoon period and fewer political debts than many other politicians. Her success is not just due to her forceful personality but also to the values of Istanbul's dynamic new business elite broadcast over half a dozen private television stations: a flashy, youthful modernism and a new, active role for women, along with a philosophy that somehow remains faithful to both secularism and the nation's Islamic beliefs and Turkish nationalist roots.

Mrs Ciller will also rejuvenate the True Path party. Going beyond the rural peasant values represented by its former leader, President Demirel, the party has already started to change itself into a more lively, urban entity, like Turkey itself. In the struggle to be seen as the natural representative of Turkey's dominant political right, it can now go head-to- head with the reformist Motherland Party created by the late President Turgut Ozal and led by the youthful but uncharismatic Mesut Yilmaz.

Turks are sobering up after Sunday's joyful scenes that followed Mrs Ciller's election, realising that she is unlikely to have magic solutions. But they can expect stubbornness and glamour from the woman who was Turkey's youngest professor and who, as a teenage bride, was the first in Turkey's recent history to make her husband accept her surname.

(Photograph omitted)