Turkish Secularists Flock to Left

  • From: "Muslim-News" <editor_@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 1 Nov 2002 09:50:43 -0000

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) - Hulya Yildiz, an aspiring stage actress, has to
shout over the music at the hip Sixties Club in the Turkish capital to
explain why she's afraid of the front-running party in Sunday's

It may claim to be just an ordinary conservative party, she says, but
she is convinced it is secretly Islamic and wants to close down the
clubs, where the music thunders and the drinks flow freely. 

Engulfed in their worst economic recession since World War II, Turks are
giving the Justice and Development Party about 30 percent, putting it
ahead in a field of 18 parties, opinion polls show. 

Those fearful of the Islamic factor are turning to its top rival, the
secular Republican People's Party, giving it nearly 20 percent, compared
with 8.7 percent in the previous election. Others are trailing near or
below the 10 percent threshold required to enter parliament. 

With the field so splintered and 30 percent of voters undecided, it's
impossible to predict with certainty who will form Turkey's next
government, but the stakes are high. Turkey, a loyal U.S. ally, borders
on Iraq, making it a critical player in the Bush administration's war
plans. It also wants to join a European Union that is wary of accepting
a 99-percent Muslim country. And it has a history of military
intervention in its vibrant but sometimes chaotic democracy. 

Like Yildiz, many in Turkey's secular, West-leaning elite are flocking
to the Republicans in part for its mildly socialist platform but mainly
in hopes of blocking Justice and Development. 

``Such a party should not come to power,'' Yildiz said. ``It would be

The election divide reflects a nation of 68 million that straddles East
and West, Islam and secularism. 

Many Justice leaders belonged to earlier, pro-Islamic parties like the
one that was pressured out of power in 1997 by the military which sees
itself as the guardian of Turkey's 80-year secular tradition. 

They say they have changed, even demanding that journalists not call
them Islamic. They say they too are secular and are simply offering a
program of social welfare. Some have pointed to the party as a potential
model for the kind of moderately Islamic force needed to temper the
extremism rampant in some parts of the Muslim world. 

Many Turks, however, are unconvinced. They fear the party will try to
roll back the country's strict secular laws such as the one barring
female civil servants from coming to work in Islamic-style headscarves. 

Justice draws much of its support from the rural and urban poor. The
economic slump has slashed incomes and thrown 2 million people out of

Supporters say they are attracted by the party's clean, dynamic image
and the extensive welfare programs run by earlier Islamic parties. 

``We are a Muslim society and we have to protect our religion,'' said
Hazal Kiziltas, wife of a retired government worker. Justice party
leaders are honest, she said. ``They know us. They know that we are

Both Justice and the center-left Republicans, heirs to the party of
Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish state, benefit from not
having sat in the unpopular outgoing parliament. 

Both have charismatic men at or near the top - the Republicans' Kemal
Dervis, an economic reformer admired by the urban intelligentsia, and
Justice's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, former mayor of Istanbul. 

But Dervis is unpopular among the poor, who identify him with the
battered economy, while Erdogan is banned from the race because he was
jailed in 1999 for reciting a poem at a political rally that was judged
inflammatory (``Minarets are our bayonets, domes are our helmets,
mosques are our barracks...''). 

The Republicans have their personnel problems too. Critics find leader
Deniz Baykal's style too aggressive and accuse him of dividing the left.

Emin Colasan, a commentator for Hurriyet newspaper writes that leftists
will vote for the Republican party ``unwillingly, foot-draggingly, from
a lack of choice.'' 

Source: AP 

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