Seven-term Turkish prime minister survived two coups
SULEYMAN DE MIREL , 1924-2015
Suleyman Demirel, a master pragmatist whose talent for staying on top of Turkish politics saw him survive two coups, serve seven terms as Turkey’s prime minister and cap his career with the presidency, died Wednesday at 90.
Demirel died at a hospital in Ankara of heart failure and a respiratory tract infection, doctors said in an announcement broadcast on Turkish television.
Unusual in Turkey’s polarized political space, Demirel sought the common ground, easily abandoned grudges and occasionally stepped aside when under pressure.
Demirel served as head of state from 1993 to 2000, the culmination of a four-decade career that repeatedly took him in and out of high office — with two stints as prime minister cut short by military intervention.
Born Nov. 1, 1924, to a peasant family in a village in southwestern Turkey, he moved from the civil service to the private sector and then into politics, where he distinguished himself by his hard work and an open embrace of political realism.
“Yesterday is yesterday. Today is today,” was one of his favorite slogans. Demirel made no apologies for chasing after power either.
But critics say Demirel symbolized a culture in which power came before principles, and helped entrench patronage and graft.
Trained as an engineer and head of a dam-building program, Demirel earned the nickname “king of dams,” before working for U.S. civil engineering company Morrison-Knudsen.
He launched his political career after a military coup in 1960 and, at the age of 40, became a surprise choice as leader of the newly formed Justice Party.
But by 1970, Demirel was on the defensive. On the left, students and worker groups demanded radical reform, while Demirel was being outflanked on the right by new nationalist and pro-Islamic parties.
When the ideological conf lict started to turn vio- lent, Turkey’s generals issued an ultimatum that forced Demirel out of office. But by 1975, Demirel was back in power, though his unwieldy coalition couldn’t halt Turkey’s slide into chaos. Many accused Demirel of turning a blind eye to his nationalist coalition partners who openly incited violence that saw dozens killed weekly in clashes between left- and right-wing gangs.
He was deposed in a second coup in 1980 and banned from politics for much of the decade, but returned as prime minister in 1991. He be- came president in 1993 on the death of Turgut Ozal.
Demirel’s wife, Nazmiye, died in May 2013. The couple had no children.
A PRAGMATIST As a politician, Demirel sought common ground.