Pro-Islam party upsets Turkey's secular elite: Polls show the Welfare Party may take control of Istanbul, writes Hugh Pope

THE DEEPEST fears of Turkey's old secularist elite are official at last, according to opinion polls published this weekend: the pro-Islamic Welfare Party just might upset the rotten applecart of Turkish politics next month to take control of Turkey's biggest city and business capital, Istanbul.

Victory for the Islamists in municipal elections on 27 March is not a foregone conclusion. But an expected substantial rise in their share of the vote will put them in control of municipalities all over the country and may send shock waves through Turkey and its allies in Nato.

Old-fashioned secularists, faithful to the Western principles upon which Kemal Ataturk founded the republic 70 years ago, are deeply worried. Others see it as a more natural development. 'People are already trying to create a provocative atmosphere towards the Welfare Party by recalling the Algeria syndrome,' wrote Cengiz Candar, a left-wing commentator.

While Turkey does have a powerful, secularised general staff that often discharges soldiers with obvious Islamic sympathies, Turkey is not about to become a new Algeria. Mr Candar noted that the Welfare Party is legal and is running cities without any sign of unusual damage.

The polls say only a quarter of Turkey's 60 million people will vote for the Welfare Party. But a first-past- the-post system may give Necmettin Erbakan, leader of the Welfare Party, the last laugh at the expense of other party leaders who chortle at his vision of an economic system with no interest rates and a new 'Just Order'.

Mr Erbakan's 20-year-old Islamist political movement has steadily grown in recent years, with its vision of a return to Ottoman-style Islamic society. But that is not the main reason for its success.

For many, a vote for the Welfare Party is a vote against mainstream Turkish parties that have failed to govern efficiently, a barely functioning parliament and widespread corruption. Years of squabbling have split both the right and the left into three parties, none of which is capable of strong government, let alone the coalition led by the Prime Minister, Tansu Ciller, consisting of her True Path Party and the main social democrat party.

The Islamists tend to be small-town shopkeepers and have successfully created an uncorrupt image. The organisation of their energetic local party offices is unmatched. On the other hand, the Welfare Party enjoys clear fundamentalist backing from Saudi Arabia - a recent scandal involved the donation of places on the annual pilgrimage to Mecca - and some of its officials are vague about implementing Islamic law.

'Four months after we win, headscarves for women will doubtless be the fashion,' said Tayyip Erdogan, the Welfare Party's candidate for Istanbul, a suave former footballer with a taste for hand- made suits and Italian ties. He has promised to close the city's legal brothels and shady bars, although he stops short of a ban on alcohol or raki, the national drink.

But secularists are still in the majority. Three out of four will not vote for the Welfare Party. Demonstrations against the murder of prominent secularists in recent years are always bigger and more broadly based than fundamentalist demonstrations. Secularist activists have also swung into action with a campaign, saying 'Don't complain - get out and vote.'

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
News
people
Sport
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all