Turkish poll winner gets nod from army

Published November 6, 2002

ANKARA, Nov 5: The winning party in Turkey’s general elections, born of a banned religious movement, settled down on Tuesday to form the next government, boosted by a pledge from the powerful army to respect its stunning victory.

The Justice and Development Party (AK), which has disavowed its radical past in favour of a centre-right agenda, won a landslide victory in Sunday’s elections, securing an outright majority in parliament and the chance to form the new government on its own.

Its victory came against the backdrop of concerns of possible tension between AK and the army, the self-appointed guardian of the secular order, which has carried out three coups and forced the resignation of the country’s first prime minister from a religion-based party in 1997.

But army chief Hilmi Ozkok said the military would respect the outcome of the elections, which have redrawn the political landslide in the key US ally and NATO member.

“We had a very democratic, incident-free election. The outcome is the will of our people and I can only respect it,” Ozkok told reporters in Washington, Anatolia news agency reported.

The AK leadership on Tuesday convened its first meeting to map out the government, which it says will be committed to secularism and Turkey’s decades-old pro-Western orientation, a party spokeswoman said.

The party’s first task will be to name a candidate for prime minister: AK leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been barred from the job due to a 1998 conviction for sedition for which he served four months in jail.

The conviction also forms the legal basis of a bid to ban AK on the grounds that Erdogan is not eligible to be the party’s leader.

The party has indicated that it may not announce a candidate for prime minister until next week.

Despite the question marks, the prospect of a one-party government after more than a decade of embattled coalition governments boosted Turkish stocks, which soared by 10.1 percent on Tuesday atop a 6.1-percent gain a day before.

Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who is responsible for appointing the prime minister, has invited Erdogan for talks on Thursday.

He will also meet Deniz Baykal, the leader of the staunchly secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), the only other party to have won parliamentary representation.

According to unofficial results from Sunday’s elections, AK won 34.2 percent of the votes and 363 of the 550 parliamentary seats, while the CHP garnered 19.3 percent and 178 seats.

At their first meeting since the election, Erdogan and Baykal signalled they would work together to win a date from the European Union for the opening of accession talks.

“We are agreed on the need to work in coordination on Turkey’s EU bid,” Erdogan told a joint press conference. “The Copenhagen summit must yield the result Turkey desires.”

The EU is expected next month at its summit in the Danish capital to formally invite 10 new countries to join the 15-nation bloc in 2004.

But Brussels has so far refused to even set a date for the start of talks with Turkey, saying the country has not yet met European norms, although it introduced a raft of human rights reforms in August.

In a bid to dispel doubts over his party’s direction, Erdogan has emphasized that EU membership would be the first priority of the future government.

Another key foreign policy issue is a possible US strike against Iraq which could require crucial logistical support from Turkey, the only Muslim member of NATO.

But AK made it clear on Tuesday that it is not keen on military action against the country’s southern neighbour.

“The US does not have the support of its own public opinion and there are problems with putting such an operation within the framework of international legitimacy,” AK deputy chairman Yasar Yakis said in an interview with Anatolia.

“When there are so many uncertainties, it would be untimely to give assurances on whether we will open our bases” to US jets for a possible operation against Iraq, he added.—AFP

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