The controversial politician and leader of the True Path Party, Tansu Çiller served as the prime minister of Turkey from 1993 until 1996, during a period of extreme political upheaval and economic volatility. She began her career as a professor of economics before entering politics in 1990.
The 1980s were a turbulent decade politically for Turkey. After the military takeover of September 12, 1980, all political activity was frozen, parties were dissolved, and politicians banned from politics. When politics was restored in 1983 only new and untainted people were allowed to form parties. The door was thrown open to a new generation of politicians, of whom Turgut Ozal became the most famous.
Tansu Çiller came into the public eye in the late 1980s as one of the critics of Turgut Ozal's economic policies. The support she enjoyed in the business community enabled her to enter Süleyman Demirel's circle as a consultant on economic matters. With the fortunes of his True Path Party (TPP) on the rise, Demirel had her join the party in 1990.
When general elections were held in October 1991, she was one of the architects of her party's economic policy. The TPP emerged as the largest party in Parliament but without the majority necessary to form its own government. Çiller won the seat for Istanbul and entered Parliament.
Demirel formed a coalition government with the Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP) and appointed Çiller to be minister of state responsible for the economy. The success of her programs depended on foreign investments and loans, and therefore Çiller traveled around the world selling her ideas, especially in Germany, the United States, and Japan. Events intervened to open new doors.
The death of President Turgut Ozal in April 1993 left the presidency vacant, leading to Süleyman Demirel's election on May 16. That left the posts of leader of the True Path Party and prime minister vacant.
Çiller was not the obvious choice but she had the advantage of being younger, female, attractive, and well educated as compared to her rivals. Not only was she an economist, she was fluent in English and German, had a cosmopolitan outlook, and was well acquainted with the West. She would counter the qualities of her rivals, especially among female voters, who made up over half the electorate. The open support that the business community gave Çiller could not be ignored either.
Moreover, in the West her success was expected to enhance Turkey's image as a forward-looking Muslim country in an Islamic world which too often seemed to be looking to the past for inspiration.
Tansu Çiller was elected leader of the TPP in 1993, and was appointed Turkey's first woman prime minister. Her coalition with the SHP won the vote of confidence and Tansu Çiller took charge of Turkey's destiny. Her success would depend on her ability to find answers to Turkey's many problems, especially the economy and the Kurdish question, and these would test the abilities of any leader.
Dire problems faced the Turkish people. Kurdish uprisings, runaway inflation, and a desperately shrinking economy plagued her tenure as prime minister. The intrinsic instability of the Turkish government further aggravated the situation. Ceding control to the Motherland Party, Ciller left her post in 1996.
Tansu Çiller attended Bosphorus University (formerly Robert College), from which she graduated with a degree in economics in 1967. Çiller came to the United States for higher education and received her Master's degree and Ph.D. in economics from the Universities of New Hampshire and Connecticut, respectively. Before returning to Turkey in 1973 she taught economics at Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania.
Çiller joined the faculty as assistant professor of economics at Bosphorus University in Istanbul in 1974 and was promoted to associate professor in 1978 and professor in 1983. During these years she established good relations with Turkey's business community and wrote a number of reports on the country's economic problems for TÜSIAD, the acronym for the Turkish Association of Businessmen and Industrialists.
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