Turkey remembered its ninth President Süleyman Demirel who passed away four years ago.
“Süleyman Demirel, the ninth president of the Republic of Turkey, has made valuable contributions to our country’s development and improvement and had a special place in our people’s heart as a statesman and politician,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Monday in a message issued by his office.
Demirel was ousted twice in military coups and survived an assassination attempt before dying of heart failure at the age of 91. He was one of Turkey’s most prominent center-right political figures serving as prime minister seven times and as president from 1993 to 2000.
His formal entry in politics began in 1962 when he was elected to the executive board of the center-right Justice Party, which he later headed from 1964 to 1980. He led the AP to a landslide victory against İsmet İnönü’s Republican People’s Party (CHP) in the 1965 elections by receiving 52.9 percent of the vote. During his first term as prime minister, Demirel and his team of “engineers” undertook major projects including the Bosporus Bridge and the Keban Dam while Turkey managed to achieve a high growth rate securing Demirel another victory in the 1969 elections with 46.5 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, Turkey’s growing fledgling student and worker movements, which gained further momentum following the global wave of protests in 1968, led to the military memorandum of 1971, which forced Demirel to resign and back the extra-party technocratic government. Until the 1973 elections, Demirel and Bülent Ecevit, the CHP’s general secretary who replaced İnönü with his stance against the military in 1972, tried to curb the influence of the military in politics, a cooperation never to be repeated during the turmoil of the 1970s. Later in 1975 and 1977, he formed governments dubbed the “National Front” as prime minister backed by right-wing parties and a minority government backed by his former partners in 1979. Ideological terror between right-wing and left-wing organizations characterize this period, along with political instability and chronic economic problems leading to shortages in basic consumer goods.
During these years, he became famous for a statement of pragmatism: “Yesterday is yesterday, today is today,” showing his ability to maneuver politically. Following the army-led coup of Sept. 12, 1980, Demirel was banned from involvement in active politics for 10 years. His party was closed in 1981, but he stayed in touch with his party members.
In 1986, Demirel launched a national campaign for the lifting of political bans and initiated a national referendum on the issue. The referendum on Sept. 6, 1987 brought him back into active politics. He was now the leader of the True Path Party (DYP) between 1987 and 1993. DYP was again the winner in 1991 forming a coalition with the center-left Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP), with Demirel returning to the post of the prime minister. Upon President Turgut Özal’s sudden death, Demirel was elected the ninth president of the Republic of Turkey on May 16, 1993.
In 1997, just three years before his presidential term of office ended, another military memorandum was given to then-Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan from the right-wing Welfare Party (RP). He was criticized for not supporting the government against the military during the Feb. 28 Military Memorandum, also known as the “postmodern coup,” when generals forced Necmettin Erbakan to sign critical decisions at a National Security Council meeting.