In May, Turkey's president and seasoned statesman Suleyman Demirel turned his office over to a political newcomer, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, making him Turkey's tenth president. This odd turn of events has left Turks smiling incredulously that the fate of their country long beleaguered by ethnic conflict, political instability, hyper-inflation, and a grave human rights record might at last be improving.
In addition to electing a new president, over the last few months Turkey has earned a candidacy status for the European Union, privatized major parts of state telecommunications and energy enterprises, passed long-awaiting human rights legislation, and ecstatically celebrated a national soccer team snatching a major European championship. Sezer, the former chief justice of Turkey's Constitutional Court, in the past had made several well-received public pleas for democratization and constitutional reform. "I am wondering if it's time to start thinking of [moving] back [to Turkey]," said Ayliz Baskin, the Turkish Program Coordinator at the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in New York.
While the mainstream Turkish public welcomed the appointment of Sezer as the beginning of a new era of democratic reform and prosperity, the course he will charter for Turkey is unclear. He is a relatively unknown figure, even inside the country. Before May, few Turks had even heard his name. He was nominated to run for president after the parliament opposed former President Demirel's re-election and seemed locked in a stalemate over his potential successors.
Sezer's keynote speech in November 1999 in which he called for constitutional reform to safeguard freedom of expression had earned him a reputation as an advocate of democracy. But that was about the extent of Turkish public's acquaintance with the chief justice. In fact, the chief justice had been so hidden from the public eye that Turkish columnists even debated which of his first names the President used on a daily basis. One veteran journalist from the daily newspaper Hurriyet pleaded, "Mr. Sezer is fine
Asla Aydintasbas is a freelance journalist. Previously she worked for the Turkish television channel NTV and the Turkish daily newspaper Yeni Yuzyil.