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Islamist party stuns Turkey old guard

Istanbul, Nov. 3 (Reuters): Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), viewed warily by enemies for its Islamist roots, said it believed it had won enough votes in today’s parliamentary polls to form a single-party government.

Opinion polls suggested that the old guard that has dominated politics for decades, including Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, would be swept away as voters exact retribution for poverty, unemployment and graft. Many mainstream parties may fall below the 10 per cent vote needed to enter parliament.

AKP leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an interview three hours after polls closed that he expected to win a majority to form a single one-party government. “Results so far show that a coalition will not be necessary.”

Early projections by NTV television predicted a slim overall majority for AKP. The projections gave AKP 33.6 per cent of the vote, and put the leftist Republican People’s Party (CHP) — seen by markets as the most desirable coalition partner with AKP if one is needed — in second place with 19.2 per cent.

It showed the conservative True Path Party (DYP) was also likely to cross the 10 per cent barrier to enter parliament with 10.9 per cent. According to those percentages, the AKP would have around 280 seats in the 550 seat parliament, NTV said.

A projection by rival CNN Turk television gave the AKP 35.4 per cent, CHP 18.6 per cent and no other party above 10 per cent. The DYP was placed at 8.6 per cent in the CNN Turk projection, with the rightist Nationalist Action Party (MHP) on 8.8 per cent. Those figures would give the AKP a large majority in parliament, with around 354 seats, CNN Turk said.

Erdogan said that if his party did not win a majority, it would be open to a coalition with any other party: “We will not discriminate against any party. Our principle has always been we are open to a coalition with anyone.”

But there is no clarity on who will become Prime Minister if the AKP wins. Erdogan, who served a jail sentence for Islamist sedition in the late 1990s, is banned from parliament. The chief prosecutor is also moving to close the party.

Markets — which appear reassured by the AKP’s insistence that it is not Islamist and backs pro-Western, secularist policies — seek swift action from whatever government emerges to restore political confidence, bring down interest rates on massive debt and safeguard a $16 billion IMF crisis pact.

Erdogan said an AKP government would sit down with the International Monetary Fund to discuss any possible changes to the rescue pact if necessary. The party said previously it would stick to the programme with only minor refinements. “We will sit down with the IMF and take a look again at each article of the programme. We will request changes if we deem that necessary,” Erdogan said.

The US, Turkey’s closest ally and fellow NATO member, will look to Ankara for use of air bases and other support in any attack on Iraq. Turkey’s staunchly secularist generals and the European Union, which Turkey wants to join, are also watching closely. The US and British warplanes already use an airbase in southern Turkey to enforce a no-fly zone over northern Iraq set up after the 1991 Gulf War.

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