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Saturday, April 17, 1999 Published at 05:50 GMT 06:50 UK

World: Europe

Analysis: Turkey set for new stalemate

Virtue - the new Islamist party - may come out on top

By Ankara Correspondent Chris Morris

Turkey goes to the polls on Sunday for a general election which is supposed to break the country's political deadlock, but which is set to produce yet another parliamentary stalemate.

The campaign has been colourful enough. Party flags and banners are hanging from every corner, and buses and vans are touring the streets with loudspeakers blaring out political songs.

But public enthusiasm is lacking, and the election has been overshadowed even here by events in Kosovo, to which Turkey has an emotional attachment from the days of the Ottoman Empire.

Most Turks know that no party will be able to gain much more than 20% of the vote in the election.

Another coalition government will have to be built between party leaders who thrive on personal attacks rather than compromise.

[ image: Bulent Ecevit on the campaign trail with his wife]
Bulent Ecevit on the campaign trail with his wife
As the final election rallies take place, two parties seem to be vying for first place.

The establishment favourite is the Democratic Left Party led by the current Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, who has been a lifetime in politics. He first held the top job 25 years ago.

Mr Ecevit probably does have the best chance of forming a coalition after the election. But he may well be beaten into second place overall by the pro-Islamist Virtue Party.

Islamists hold on to support

The Islamists seem to have maintained the support they gained at the last election, which they won narrowly, and Mr Ecevit may find it hard to overtake them.

"I would not be surprised to see the Islamists come first again", said Ilnur Cevik, the editor of the Turkish Daily News. "They keep plugging away and the electoral system favours them".

Nevertheless many people are tired of the political tensions which the Islamists seem to generate, especially with the Turkish military.

That is why they are turning to Mr Ecevit as a safe pair of hands.

He has few new ideas, but many of the ministers in his caretaker government have been a success and he has a reputation for personal honesty.

The Ocalan File
Mr Ecevit also happened to be running the country in February when Turkey captured its most wanted man, the Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan.

All these factors have combined to increase his popularity.

"Ecevit is gaining momentum because he is not doing anything", said political analyst Mehmet Ali Birand with a smile. "He is not promising anything, he is just there".

[ image: Pro-Kurdish Hadep party set to win councils for first time]
Pro-Kurdish Hadep party set to win councils for first time
The Ocalan factor may help Mr Ecevit in the national poll, but it is likely to have the opposite effect in parallel local elections in the mainly Kurdish south-east of the country.

The pro-Kurdish party Hadep, which has been harassed by the authorities throughout the campaign, is set to take control of a number of local councils for the first time.

Ankara is not pleased, but there is little it can do.

Horse-trading in prospect

An election in which both Hadep and the Islamists do well will hardly be a sign that the status quo can continue.

That has led to a great deal of pessimism about the immediate political future.

Under Turkey's complicated electoral system, parties have to win 10% of the national vote to qualify for parliament.

Anywhere between four and six parties could pass that threshold, and hard bargaining about a new coalition could continue for weeks afterwards..

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