Pro-Islamic Welfare wins famous victory

Turkish elections: The Army is alarmed as ex-detainee's party upsets the Establishment

In one of the more extraordinary upsets in Turkey's 73-year-old republic, a pro-Islamic party overtook the squabbling secularist establishment to form the biggest faction in the parliament founded by Kemal Ataturk.

The veteran Welfare Party leader, Necmettin Erbakan, yesterday claimed a famous victory as results came in from 24 December's general elections, even though he won with just 21.32 per cent of the vote that brought him 158 deputies in the 550-seat assembly. "The people have chosen the Welfare Party," said the flamboyant Mr Erbakan, 69, flushed with success after years of being mocked in the political wilderness.

The prime minister, Tansu Ciller resigned, though she will stay on as caretaker until President Suleyman Demirel nominates her successor. As Mr Erbakan demanded that he be chosen, he was cheered by supporters watching him on television, some of them young militants in turbans shouting "Allah- u-Akbar (God is Great).

But Mr Erbakan needs a parliamentary majority, or 276 deputies to vote for his government programme. Mr Demirel said last week he will seek such a premier. The hint was directed at Mrs Ciller of the True Path Party and Motherland Party leader Mesut Yilmaz, who were close runners-up in the election.

The army will also be watching closely, having jailed Mr Erbakan for eight months during its last 1980-83 military take-over and charged him with trying to set up an Islamic state. Mr Erbakan was acquitted in 1985.

The officer corps purged dozens of suspected Islamic sympathisers from its ranks this month and is said to be keen that Mrs Ciller and Mr Yilmaz on the centre-right patch up their rivalry and unite to save the republican order.

"The Turkish armed forces are the unwavering guardians of Ataturk's nationalism ... they have adopted a contemporary, democratic, secular world view, and have always stood against zealotry and reaction," the Chief of General Staff, Ismail Hakki Karadayi warned before the elections.

Parliamentary arithmetic will not help the establishment. Mrs Ciller did unexpectedly well, winning about 135 seats with 19.20 per cent of the vote. Mr Yilmaz won 132 seats with 19.66 per cent.

But that does not make 276 votes, even if Mr Yilmaz can overcome years of animosity with "that woman" Mrs Ciller.

They would have to form a government with one or both of the left-wing parties, former premier Bulent Ecevit's Democratic Left Party, which won 75 seats with 14.65 per cent of the vote, or Deniz Baykal's Republican People's Party, which won 50 seats with 10.71 per cent.

Others among the 12 competing parties failed to surmount a 10 per cent national threshold. In a calm election with a big turnout of 85 per cent, the Kurdish nationalist left-wing party HADEP won only 4.17 per cent of the vote, showing that many Kurds, perhaps 20 per cent of the population, prefer mainstream parties.

The Turkish nationalist "Grey Wolves" of the National Action Party also fell short of the threshold, polling just 8.18 per cent.

"We must find a workable government, without prejudice," said Mr Yilmaz yesterday. He did not rule out talks with Mrs Ciller and he said he would talk with Mr Erbakan's Islamists "if they changed their philosophy."

Mr Erbakan, however, clearly hopes that as prime minister-designate it is he who will be persuading conservatives in Mr Yilmaz's party to join him.

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