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Islamic Parties Expected to Have Strong Showing in Turkey Election - 2002-10-31

U.S.-based experts on Turkey expect a new party with Islamist roots to show strong backing in Sunday's parliamentary election.

Analyst Bulent Aliriza believes this election will dramatically alter the Turkish political scene. He predicts 400 of 550 current parliamentarians will fail to retain their seats. He predicts that voters will overwhelmingly turn against the ruling three-party coalition that is viewed as corrupt and ineffective.

The big winner is expected to be the newly formed Justice and Development Party headed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who himself has been banned from running for office because of his controversial pro-Islamist views. Despite that, the party of the 48-year-old former mayor of Istanbul is projected to win up to 30 percent of the vote.

Mr. Aliriza, who heads the Turkey project at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, says while the anticipated result would represent an earthquake in Turkish politics, the incoming government may run into trouble with secular forces, particularly the army.

"Given the fact that the party leading the polls is a party that others designate as Islamist, it denies the label itself and may have some trouble with the military and civilian establishment, it remains to be seen how stable Turkish politics will be," he said.

Mr. Aliriza says the economy is the dominant election issue with foreign affairs hardly mentioned during the campaign. Polls suggest that 80% of the Turkish public oppose a war with Iraq.

Kristen McSwain, a researcher on Turkey at the International Republican Institute, agrees that this election is likely to dismiss from government an entire generation of establishment politicians.

"This election is actually the first time that Turkey may see new players on the political horizon. I've heard all kinds of people in Turkey tell me that they didn't have any new choices, that they've been voting for the same people," she said.

Public opinion surveys suggest that the party of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit may not even reach the 10 percent of the vote needed to get into parliament.

Turkey's economy was ravaged by a financial crisis in 2001 and the economy shrank by nine percent last year. Millions have seen their living standards decline.

Significantly, the second highest ranked party, 18 percent in latest polls, the Republican People's Party, embraces market based reform. Turkey's parliamentary election was called on short notice with campaigning beginning only on October 1.