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Monday, April 19, 1999 Published at 07:17 GMT 08:17 UK

World: Europe

The rise of the nationalists

The MHP has ridden a wave of nationalist sentiment

Turkey's right-wing Nationalist Action Party (MHP) has defied predictions by gaining almost 18% of the vote in the general election, wooing voters with tales of a glorious Turkish past..

The party ran the ruling Democratic Left Party a very close second, surging ahead of the Islamic Virtue Party which had previously been the largest opposition group.

After failing in the 1995 elections to gain even 10% of the vote, the party will now stake a strong claim to be part of the next government.

Even if it does not form part of a ruling coalition, it is set to become a dominant, even belligerent force in the new parliament.

The party was involved in coalition governments in the 1970s.

Nationalist mythology

[ image: The Islamist Virtue Party lost votes to the MHP]
The Islamist Virtue Party lost votes to the MHP
The MHP has wooed voters with nationalist mythology, and tales of a glorious Turkish past.

The wolf which forms the party emblem is the legendary saviour of Turkish nationhood.

It has promised to take a hard line against enemies of the Turkish state - notably the Kurdish separatists.

Analysts say that the party benefited from the waves of nationalist sentiment which followed the arrest of the Kurdish guerrilla leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Gains at Islamists' expense

The MHP's gains seem to have been at the expense of the Virtue Party, whose share of the vote decreased from over 21% in the 1995 election to barely 16% this time round.

An MHP official said his campaigners had told voters that the Virtue Party "was the party that did the most damage to religion".

One commentator said the Virtue Party's good showing in the 1995 election was not a true reflection of its strength, since it had benefited from a protest vote against secularist parties.

"The MHP is now taking votes back from the Islamists," political analyst Sedat Ergin told Turkish state television.

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