Ambition for All Seasons: Tansu Ciller

By Ustun Reinart* Tansu Ciller, leader of the True Path party, is one of Turkey's most powerful politicians. As Turkey prepares for its coming elections, she is a key powerbroker for forming the next government. Yet she has constantly walked the edge of disaster, through both her political decisions and personal choices. "She is probably the most A blonde, stylish woman stood Machiavellian politican Turkey has seen for behind a microphone at the Turkish a long time," said Professor Kemal Kirisci, a Parliament in Ankara, on January 6, 1999. political scientist at Bosphorus University in "In order to prevent a sabotage of the Istanbul. "For the sake of her goal she'll do democratic system, we have taken control of anything. Part and parcel of her the situation," she announced. Tansu Ciller, Machiavellianism is that while she has a lot had surprised the country by offering of dirty linen herself, she has dirty linen on support for a minority government to be other politicians, and does not hesitate to use formed by Bulent Ecevit, leader of the it." Democratic Left Party. This year, a book entitled Maskeli Thus, Turkey's current government Lady (The Masked Lady), an impeccably was dependent on the same woman who has researched self-described "thriller" about dominated Turkish politics since 1990. Ciller written by Faruk Bildirici, a columnist Ecevit may be prime minister but Tansu with the daily newspaper Hurriyet, is a Ciller can make or break his government. phenomenal best-seller in Turkey. It After scandals, blunders, and after her documents her family background, political career was apparently in shambles, childhood, rise to power, accumulation of Ciller is once more poised to hold the reigns wealth and changes of political position. The of power. "mask" refers to the winning smile on Tansu Ciller enthralled Turkish Ciller's face at each public appearance. politicians and voters early in this decade Ciller's unsuccessful bid to have the book and became the darling of Turkey's Western banned has only increased its popularity. allies. Yet only weeks before her latest stunt, Tansu Ciller was the daughter of a Ciller had narrowly escaped a parliamentary modest middle class family. Her father had inquiry into an enormous fortune she had unfulfilled political ambitions which he acquired during her years in political office. invested in her daughter. For Tansu's In the last three years she has been accused parents, it was a sacrifice to send their only of abusing the government's slush fund in daughter to Robert College, a private her term as prime minister, and her name American school in Istanbul. There, Tansu has been associated with criminal leaders. was known for her ambition, admiration of Many journalists and political analysts have American culture, and for concealing the called disastrous her latest stint in fact that her parents were less wealthy than government as coalition partner of the the parents of most of the other students. Islamist Refah party. Middle East Review of International Affairs Vol. 3, No. 1 (March 1999) 80

many believed the charismatic woman was just what Turkey needed to boost its contemporary image. colorful neck scarves and bought her perfume (Beautiful by Estee Lauder). (now president). She had neglected to list her possessions in the United States: 4 houses. and a hotel. No. Tansu began to teach economics at Bosphorus University (formerly Robert College). Tansu's intimate friends told Bildirici that she was never even mildly religious. That year. Ciller personally lobbied media outlets and won their support. another graduate of Robert College. She went after the prime minister's job. some land and a car. Ciller's moment had come. "The symbol of Modern Turkey. she was elected and shared the responsibility for the ministry of the economy in the coalition government. etc. she told her friends that she was entering politics to prevent the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in Turkey. she proposed to forego the civil servants' salaries for a month." Middle East Review of International Affairs Vol. Ciller started the 1991 election campaign with a declaration of her wealth -. with a total value of $4.D. In June 1993.5 million worth of real estate. After Ciller's entry into politics. Reporting her successful visits abroad. defending Turkish laicism. Walk fast for a look of dynamism. were being paid from government funds. They founded two separate companies and bought a large apartment block. But already. a luxury house. During the mid-1970s." She took a leadership course in New York and began to say that Turkey was ready for a woman prime minister. Under the mentorship of Suleyman Demirel. Her alarmed advisors had to inform Demirel who prevented the measure. Other women imitated her flowing. Tansu Ciller was riding high in 1992. The couple went to the United States for Tansu's Master's and her Ph. Ciller announced that the World Bank had offered Turkey unconditional support. called her a model for all Islamic women. then leader of the True Path Party. coffee. But despite such blunders. When World Bank official 81 Michael Wieken sent Turkey a letter spelling out the conditions his organization required from Turkey. 3. Her public relation consultants had told her she should change her style: Wear white for a look of innocence. When then President Turgut Ozal died in 1993.. She immediately rose to the rank of assistant to the party leader. They had a son there and in 1970. opposition parties were giving her a hard time. In 1991. Some of Ciller's press releases were fictional. In 1990. She was elected as woman of the year in Turkey.a false one.Ambition for All Seasons: Tansu Ciller She married Ozer Ciller. became American citizens. Demirel became president. as a budgetary measure. saying that her personal expenses for travel. Bildirici says Tansu Ciller's former colleagues all described her as fiercely ambitious but with a very effective personal style. a shopping center. Ozer received an attractive job offer from a large company in Turkey and the couple returned. Early in 1992. the couple began to accumulate real estate in Turkey and in the United States. flowers. Soon the economics professor began to surprise her party colleagues with her careless figures and unusual requests. Put one of your hands on your waist during speeches for a look of authority. Ciller even impressed Libya's leader Muammar Qadhafi. European newspapers called her. Turkish newspaper headlines were euphoric: "Our minister has charmed the Europeans!" The Cillers were increasing their investments in the United States. 1 (March 1999) . she won the party leadership and became prime minister. a boat. Tansu Ciller hinted to Turkish journalists that she was on her way to the "top.

Internal Affairs minister Mehmet Agar. when a Turkish mafia leader. liberal image and embraced a nationalist. carrying prayer beads. 1 (March 1999) . Now. It looked as if her career was collapsing. 3. the DEP MPs were shoved into police vans in front of the parliament building. Once more. 1995 yielded no winner. a police chief and a politician from Ciller's party were found to have been travelling together in the same car after a traffic accident. Many seasoned politicians began to leave Ciller's party. It wasn't unusual for a government plane to make a return trip to Argentina to purchase a special ingredient for a meal. Today. Ciller bargained individually with party leaders to organize a defeat of the motion. One afternoon in spring. or to fly in a particular type of ice cream for the prime minister.Ustun Reinart But she continued to walk along the edge of danger. she changed her image. On the way to a NATO summit in Brussels where the question of Russia's membership was on the agenda. the Islamist Party was investigating Ciller's wealth and asking questions about the disappearance of a large amount of money from the secret slush fund the day before she had left the prime minister's office. In the fall of 1996. Meanwhile. she was being seen praying in public. there was a sudden increase in political murders. covering her head. they stopped pursuing her. The coalition collapsed in the spring of 1996. the new coalition was formed. Chiller campaigned on a platform of Turkey's membership in the European Community. she surprised journalists by asking "Isn't Russia already a Nato member?" She also spent state money prodigiously on her private requirements. battling against Kurdish separatism. started to negotiate with the Islamist leader. When Mesut Yilmaz. exceeding past norms. Suddenly. and the fight against the Islamist party which she called "the murderous merchants of religion. After the June elections. Tansu Ciller had abandoned her urban. She often forgot the names of foreign heads of state. By the 1993 elections." The elections on December 24. By the summer of 1994. The Islamist leader became the prime minister and Ciller became his assistant and minister of external affairs. somehow became known. The Islamists had received the highest number of votes (21%). one of Ciller's close associates. The Islamists had collected thick files against her. When she agreed for form a coalition with them. traditionalist one. No. The real estate in the United States which she hadn't declared. Opposition parties proposed a parliamentary investigation into the prime minister's wealth. Ciller's 82 Middle East Review of International Affairs Vol. had to resign because of his ties to organized crime and to right-wing death squad killings. the police department and the secret service grew closer. Ciller was forced to leave the government. The ties between her. In the spring of 1994. Ciller ordered the lifting of the parliamentary immunity of Kurdish members of Parliament belonging to the party DEP." Yilmaz ended up forming a coalition government with Ciller instead. With three different parliamentary investigations against her. but no party had a majority. she began to negotiate with them. the Cillers' wealth was beginning to make headlines. she took a hard line towards the Kurdish separatists in southeastTurkey. On June 28. 1996. the leader of the Motherland party. as Turkey heads toward general elections in April 1999. They also blocked the Social Democratic Party's motion related to the missing slush fund money. Her assistants learned to be on their toes to protect her from her own blunders. She also announced she would donate a large portion of her wealth to charity before the 1995 general elections. Ciller accused him of "pushing Turkey to darkness. with message: subscribe. That's power. Show me your clear support!" she told a rally at Bursa in Western Anatolia. No. suddenly.Ambition for All Seasons: Tansu Ciller campaign posters flaunt a religious image of herself. Once more. she is the one who decides whether Turkey's current minority government will stand or>. Canada and author of Night Spirits (University of Manitoba Press. "Don't leave your sister dependent on people from other parties in order to form a government. 1 (March 1999) . *Ustun Reinart is a writer in Quebec City. She is currently teaching at Middle East Technical University (METU) in her native Turkey. +This article is adapted from a version appearing in Women's International Net (WIN) Magazine. Many of her former admirers in Europe and the United States have distanced themselves from her after her alliance with the Islamist party and after the publicity surrounding her wealth and her shady connections. To see WIN Magazine. though some have nicknamed her "Saibe. go to <http://welcome. Ciller is riding high in Turkish politics. A couple of MPs from the Islamist party have even jumped ship and joined her group. For a free subscription: editor@winmagazine." which means tainted or stained. Still. 1997. 83 Middle East Review of International Affairs Vol.