Former foreign affairs minister Hikmet Cetin was confirmed as leader of the newly merged party, formed by the Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP) and the Republican Peoples Party (CHP), at a joint convention held on 18 February. The convention also chose to take the CHP as the name of the merged party.

The merger is expected to result in a cabinet reshuffle for Prime Minister Tansu Ciller’s coalition government, in which the SHP was the junior partner to her True Path Party (DYP). Turkish press reports say Cetin wants to reach a new coalition protocol with the DYP as soon as possible, particularly in view of a critical Turkish-EU association council meeting on 6 March, expected to decide on Turkey’s entry into an EU customs union by end-1995.

The press reports add Cetin will seek more influence for the CHP in economic policy making than its predecessor. An economist himself, he has strongly criticised the premier in the past. He will also push harder for the introduction of a democratisation package, including greater freedom of expression in anti-terrorism legislation, say the reports. However, on 20 February, Ciller’s office denied Cetin had laid down conditions for a continuation of the coalition.

Cetin is an ethnic Kurd, born in 1937 in the southeastern town of Lice in Diyarbakir province and a veteran of social democrat politics in Turkey, first entering the CHP’s youth branch in the 1950s.

A moderate, Cetin was one of the architects of the present coalition after the 1991 general elections, and subsequently served as foreign affairs minister until July 1994.