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World - Middle East

Ecevit's center-left party leads Turkish elections

April 18, 1999
Web posted at: 9:04 p.m. EDT (0104 GMT)

ANKARA, Turkey (CNN) -- Prime Minister Democratic Left Party was leading Sunday in Turkish national elections, but an ultra-right nationalist group was making remarkable gains over its 1995 showing.

Final results of Sunday's vote, expected Monday, could leave Turkey with an unstable and fragmented government torn between Islamists and secularists.

With 35 percent of the vote counted, Ecevit's secular Democratic Left Party had 23 percent of the vote. Ecevit, who has a good reputation, appeared to be picking up votes from people angry over constant scandals that have plagued previous governments.

"I am happy with this result," Ecevit said. "I think the period of using religion for political purposes is over."

Virtue was taking only 16 percent of the vote, a sharp decline from the 21 percent that its predecessor, the Welfare Party, garnered in 1995 to win parliamentary elections and eventually take power before being pushed out by the military.

But the surprise was the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), which in 1995 did not make the 10 percent threshold necessary to earn seats in the legislative body. The private NTV television reported that MHP had 17.3 percent of vote.

"We thought they would go up," said Ecevit, whose party took just under 15 percent in 1995, "but not as far as this."

Ecevit appeared to be gaining ground because of his handling of the capture of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan earlier this year. But the MHP also likely benefited from nationalist Turks tired of battling the Kurdish rebellion in the southeastern part of the country.

Ecevit's government is Turkey's sixth since the 1995 elections. His coalition partner, the Motherland Party, was losing ground Sunday, from 19.6 percent in 1995 to just over 14 percent.

Because of Turkey's proportional representation system that favors rural areas, Ecevit is likely to need two coalition partners to form his new government. If current voting holds, the next two largest parties would be the MHP and the Virtue party, both deeply religious parties.

That same proportional representative system could propel MHP into the top spot with the most seats in Parliament, requiring President Suleyman Demirel to ask the nationalist party to make the first attempt to form a government.

"The nation has given us an important duty, and we can fulfill it," said MHP leader Devlet Bahceli. "The election is a crossroads for the Turkish nation and democracy."

Turkey's constitution calls for a secular government. And Turkey's staunchly secular military has already said it would balk at any participation by the Virtue party in the government.

"I hope that deputies who are at ease with the Constitution are elected ... because calm in our country depends on it," said chief prosecutor Vural Savas, who is pressing for the closure of the Virtue party.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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RELATED SITE:
ElectionWatch: Turkey
Office of the Prime Minister, Directorate General of Press and Information
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