- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 17, 2002

ANKARA, Turkey A moderate pro-Western politician from an Islamic-rooted party was named Turkey's prime minister yesterday in what is likely to be a caretaker role until the true power behind the government can take office.
Abdullah Gul will lead the new government, but party chief Recep Tayyip Erdogan, banned from government because of a conviction for inciting religious hatred, demonstrated his behind-the-scenes powers, outlining the administration's ambitious agenda for fighting corruption, boost the ailing economy and improve human rights.
Mr. Erdogan is the undisputed leader of the Justice and Development Party that swept the Nov. 3 elections and is expected to dominate a new government until legislators can change the constitution to allow him to take over.
Mr. Gul hinted strongly yesterday that he would step down if Mr. Erdogan becomes eligible to lead, a change that could take several months.
Mr. Erdogan has said he wants widespread support in parliament before proposing a constitutional amendment that would allow him to become prime minister. But his party lacks the necessary two-thirds majority by four parliamentary seats.
President Ahmet Necdet Sezer asked Mr. Gul to form the country's first majority government in more than a decade, encouraging hopes for stability in this key U.S. ally. Turkish support is crucial for any action against Iraq, its southern neighbor.
The United States has appeared supportive of the new Turkish leadership, with U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Robert Pearson offering support for the Justice party's positions on stronger ties with the European Union, democratic reforms and economic development.
"With the power of governing alone, our government will provide urgent solutions to problems that have been piling up for years," Mr. Erdogan said. "We've said, 'From now on, nothing will be the same in Turkey.' Now we're at the beginning of those days."
The Justice party captured 363 seats in the 550-member legislature enabling it to form the first majority government in 15 years. Only one other party, the pro-secular Republican People's Party, managed to pass the 10 percent threshold to win seats. The Republican Party won 178 seats, and nine seats went to independents.
The Justice party was founded last year by former members of a pro-Islamic party banned by Turkish courts. But since then it has distanced itself from its Islamic roots, saying it intends to fix the battered economy, win Turkey membership in the European Union and promote social welfare.
In an interview published Friday in the English-language Turkish Daily News, Mr. Gul vowed to maintain his secular country's ties with the West.
"Our aim is to show the world that a country which has a Muslim population can also be democratic, transparent and modern, and cooperate with the world," Mr. Gul said.
He said he would submit a Cabinet list to Mr. Sezer for approval tomorrow. He said it would decrease the number of ministers in the Cabinet from 35 to 24 apparently in a move to make a more efficient government.
Mr. Erdogan pledged that his party would move forward with Turkey's International Monetary Fund-backed austerity program but said adjustments were needed to protect the poor.
Last year, Turkey's economy shrank 9.4 percent amid its worst recession in a half-century, and the country's economic rescue plan is backed by a $31 billion IMF loan package.


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