Turkish far right on the rise

THEIR FISTS thrust in the air, the cheering crowds made the sign of the wolf - the symbol of hardline Turkish nationalism. They were celebrating the astonishing electoral success of Turkey's far-right nationalists.

With 69 per cent of votes counted from Sunday's polls, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), with 18.6 per cent of votes counted, was second only to the Democratic Left Party of the Prime Minister, Bulent Ecevit. With 21.7 per cent of the vote, Mr Ecevit was widely expected to emerge on top.

"This election is a crossroads for the Turkish nation and democracy," said the MHP's leader, Devlet Bahceli. In Turkey's last elections, his party failed even to win the 10 per cent of the national vote needed to qualify for parliament.

The far right gains will transform Turkey's political arena. Political Islam, which has dominated the agenda in recent years, was delivered a crushing defeat. The Islamist Virtue Party, seen as Mr Ecevit's only challenger in the run-up to the polls, saw its share of the vote plummet as it limped in in third place. "The period of using religion for political purposes is over,' said Mr Ecevit.

Mr Ecevit is expected to remain in power at the head of a government including the MHP. Ardent nationalism is de rigueur in mainstream Turkish politics, and Mr Ecevit is no exception. With the MHP's backing, his policies are likely to be more chauvinist than ever.

"The MHP will move Turkey towards a more nationalist line in relations with the European Union, the United States and Russia," said Professor Ali Carkoglu of the political faculty at Istanbul's Bogazici University. "That may signal trouble."

The far right's success is ominous for Turkey's restive Kurdish minority. The party is fiercely opposed to any compromise with autonomy-seeking Kurdish factions. There was consolation for Kurds as a Kurdish nationalist party won several mayors' posts in the south- east. But the People's Democracy Party (Hadep) failed to secure the expected gains in its national vote.

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