Seven-term Turk­ish prime min­is­ter sur­vived two coups

SU­LEY­MAN DE MIREL , 1924-2015

Los Angeles Times - - OBITUARIES - As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

Burhan Ozbilici As­so­ci­ated Press

A PRAG­MA­TIST As a politi­cian, Demirel sought com­mon ground.

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