Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit

Turkey's Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has a long history as a reformer and democracy proponent in Turkey's government. He is a Turkish statesman and Sanskrit scholar. He is banned from being the president of Turkey, though, because he does not have a university degree.

Born 1925 in Istanbul, Ecevit worked his way up the Republican People's Party, and became minister of labor. Later, after acting as the secretary-general of the Republican People’s Party, he was elected its chairman in 1972. In 1974, Ecevit headed a coalition government, during which he ordered the invasion of Cyprus. In 1978 he imposed martial law on Turkey. After the military coup of 1980, he was imprisoned twice for criticizing the military regime. He retired in 1987, only to come back into politics in the 1990s.

In January 1999, Ecevit was asked to lead a temporary minority coalition to replace a coalition government after the previous administration fell to corruption allegations. Ecevit came back into power still as prime minister. In February 1999, he announced a plan for the partial amnesty for the separatist Kurdish rebels (PKK) in Turkey shortly after the dramatic capture of rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan.

In April 1999, Bulent Ecevit was officially elected as prime minister at the age of 73 by Turkey’s pro-secular masses on his reputation for honesty and nationalism. In May 1999, Ecevit’s Democratic Left Party decided to form a coalition government with the unexpectedly strong Nationalist Action Party (MHP).

Currently, Ecevit’s party has a relatively moderate position on the Kurds. The MHP would like a military solution to the 15-year-long Kurdish rebellion. Ecevit has been forced to create a balance, seeking to soften the state’s stance on the rebels. As long as the PKK’s armed campaign continues, he cannot condone any concessions to Kurdish demands for cultural rights. Ecevit has said recently that Turkey will not negotiate with the rebels, but has added that everyone's efforts are needed to end the war.