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Turkey Considers Early Elections - 2002-07-29

Turkey's parliament is meeting to consider a proposal to hold early parliamentary elections, despite stiff opposition from the country's prime minister, Bulent Ecevit.

Turkey's parliament opened a special session Monday to begin considering the proposal for early elections. Parliament is scheduled to vote on the question Wednesday, after the proposal is approved by a special parliamentary commission that will meet Tuesday.

Turkey's ailing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has voiced stiff opposition to elections, saying they would destabilize Turkey at what he terms a critical time. Mr. Ecevit has expressed concerns that an Islamic-leaning group, the Justice and Development Party, would win the elections and would pose a threat to Turkey's secular orientation.

But Mr. Ecevit's calls have not succeeded in dissuading opposition members of parliament from supporting early elections on November 3. That date was proposed by Mr. Ecevit's far right coalition partner, the Nationalist Action Party, led by Deputy Prime Minister Devlet Bahceli.

Mr. Bahceli has argued that early polls will help clear the atmosphere of political uncertainty that has gripped Turkey since Mr. Ecevit's health began deteriorating. Mr. Ecevit's refusal to step down and appoint a successor sparked a rebellion within his own Democratic Left party, resulting in scores of defections and the resignations of seven cabinet ministers.

Opinion polls seem to confirm Mr. Ecevit's assertion that an early election would be won by the Justice and Development Party led by Istanbul's former pro-Islamic mayor Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey's pro-secular military leaders have also made clear their opposition to Mr. Erdogan leading the country, saying he would likely deviate from the nation's traditionally pro-western policies. Mr. Erdogan denies this, saying he does not believe in mixing religion with politics.