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Turkey's New Parliament Holds Inaugural Session - 2002-11-14

Turkey's newly-elected parliament held its inaugural session, paving the way for the nomination of a prime minister from the new ruling party, which has strong Islamist roots.

About 550 members took their parliamentary oaths, pledging to abide by the pro-secular legacy of the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk.

In keeping with tradition, the eldest lawmaker elected in the November 3 election, Sukru Elekdag, chaired the session. In his opening remarks, Mr. Elekdag said the new parliament has a historic duty to prove to the world that Islam and democracy can co-exist.

Mr. Elekdag was referring to the composition of the new chamber, which is dominated by members of the Islam-rooted Justice and Development Party, better known as the AKP.

The party, led by former Istanbul mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan, swept to power on its own after receiving 34 percent of the national vote and 363 seats in the parliament. The only other party with the minimum 10 percent of the vote needed to win seats was the pro-secular Republican People's Party. The Ataturk-founded party is the sole opposition group with 178 seats.

Nine independents also won seats, including Fadil Akgunduz, a controversial businessman who is on Interpol's list of most-wanted criminals.

Party leader Erdogan was not among those taking the oath of office Thursday. He was barred from running for a seat because of a prior conviction on charges of seeking to stir up religious hatred through a poem he recited in public.

Under Turkish laws only members of parliament can qualify to become prime minister. So, despite leading his party to victory, Mr. Erdogan does not qualify for the post.

Turkey's president Ahmet Necdet Sezer, is expected to name a prime minister from within the AKP's ranks in a few days. He is expected to pick one of several candidates that Mr. Erdogan is to present to him.

But AKP officials say it is only a matter of time before their leader takes over the premiership. That will require revising articles in the constitution. But with the party only four seats short of the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution, analysts say the AKP should have no trouble securing the votes it needs to make that happen.