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Monday, 4 November, 2002, 13:52 GMT
Turkey leaps into the unknown
Female supporters of the AK wave a party flag outside its headquarters in Ankara
The poll marks the rejection of the old Turkish politics

Critics of Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party are wary of it for essentially the same reason Turkish voters have been drawn to it. It is new and untested.

This election marked the decisive rejection of the old Turkish politics, and of a political elite seen as corrupt, self-serving - and, above all, responsible for dragging the country into its worst economic crisis since World War II.

Official results
AK (Justice and Development Party): 34.2 %
Republican People's Party (CHP): 19.3%
True Path Party: 9.5%
Nationalist Action Party (MHP): 8.3%

Hence all three parties in the outgoing coalition government have been consigned to oblivion. All failed to cross the 10% threshold and so failed to win a single seat.

In contrast to the tired old godfathers of the mainstream parties, voters saw Mr Erdogan as honest, uncorrupted by power and, at 48, relatively young.

AK won about a third of the votes, but under Turkey's electoral system this has given it almost two-thirds of the seats.

Only one other party - the centre-left Republican People's Party - crossed the 10% threshold, and will now be the only opposition party in parliament.

Two key questions will now dominate the Turkish political scene:

  • Can AK handle its sudden transition to power? Can it, for example, choose a credible prime minister - given that, for legal reasons, Mr Erdogan is ineligible for the post? (He was banned from public office after being convicted of reciting a poem deemed threatening to the secular character of the state).

  • Can AK successfully cohabit with the country's secular establishment, especially the powerful generals, who see themselves as the guardians of Turkey's secular, pro-Western orientation?

Five years ago, in 1997, the military forced from power the country's first Islamist Prime Minister, Necmettin Erbakan, after only a year in office. It was a bruising experience which no-one wants to repeat.

Mr Erdogan's supporters stress that he is a younger and more modern-minded politician than the wily - and authoritarian - Mr Erbakan.

He and his colleagues say they have learned important lessons from the events of 1997.

They are now making all the right noises - pro-secularism, pro-Europe, pro-IMF.

Western ally

Turkey's Western allies have been taking note.

In Brussels as in Washington, the priority is to have a stable government in Ankara, enabling Turkey to play a positive role in a wide range of arenas.

These include Afghanistan, the Middle East, Cyprus and Europe.

Turkey wants to join the European Union, but so far has waited in vain for a date when accession talks can begin.

For the Bush administration in Washington, the priority is for the Turks to play a strategically crucial role in any war against Iraq.

AK, like other Turkish parties, is unhappy about the prospect of a war, but says it will comply with any new UN resolution.

So AK needs to convince the doubters at home and abroad that it really does represent a new and credible form of politics. In rejecting the old, Turkey has taken a leap into the unknown.

Turkey's election

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