- The Washington Times - Monday, November 4, 2002

ANKARA, Turkey A party with Islamic roots declared victory today in Turkey's elections, and its leader immediately moved to calm fears of a shift away from secularism for this key U.S. ally.
To the cheers of supporters, Justice and Development Party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: "From now on, we will celebrate victories on behalf of our nation and state."
With 98 percent of the ballots counted from yesterday's vote, Mr. Erdogan's party had 34 percent support and appeared able to form a government without coalition partners a rarity in Turkish politics. Its campaign was fueled by anger over Turkey's worst economic crisis in decades.
The results hand the newly formed party 361 seats in the 550-member assembly after its landslide win, the first time it had taken part in a general election.
The party, which has its roots in Turkey's Islamic movement, sought to calm the public and markets by pledging support for secularism, Turkey's European Union bid and its commitment to an International Monetary Fund austerity program. In its campaign, the party called itself conservative and said it would pursue no Islamic agenda.
Mr. Erdogan said his government's first priority will be to "speedily pursue the EU membership process." He said his government will "follow an economic program to integrate the country with the world."
"We have no intention to challenge the world," he told Dow Jones news wires. "Under our government, Turkey will be in harmony with the world."
Mr. Erdogan leads the Justice party, but has been banned by the elections board from standing as a candidate because of a jail sentence he served in 1999 for publicly reading a poem that a court deemed anti-secular. It is not clear who would serve as prime minister if the party wins or if lawmakers would move to change the ban.
No other party had more than 10 percent of the vote, the threshold a party needs to win seats in parliament. If no party reaches the threshold, all the seats will go to the Justice and Republican parties, with the former having a majority.
Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's party had only 1 percent of the vote, and his coalition partners were well below the 10 percent threshold needed for entry into parliament.
"We committed suicide," Mr. Ecevit said, referring to parliament's agreement to hold elections 18 months early. Legislators agreed to the vote amid Mr. Ecevit's failing health.
Like many secularists, Mr. Ecevit also expressed concern over the Justice party's Islamic roots. Many fear the party may try to carry out an Islamic agenda once in power.
"I carry those concerns," Mr. Ecevit said. "I hope this party respects the secular and democratic regime."
The Justice party was established last year by lawmakers from a banned pro-Islamic party and had sparked tensions with the staunchly secular establishment.
Besides banning Mr. Erdogan as a candidate, a prosecutor also is trying to close down the Justice party.
The elections come amid the country's worst economic crisis since World War II, a problem many blame on Mr. Ecevit.
During the campaign, the Justice party said it would concentrate on social welfare, support Turkey's $31 billion IMF-backed recovery program and has hinted it would support a U.S.-led operation in Iraq if it has U.N. approval.
But many in the secular establishment fear that the party may clash with the pro-secular military. That instability could come as the United States considers war in neighboring Iraq and as Turkey begins to recover from a crushing economic slump that has left 2 million unemployed.

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