On 18 April some 37 million Turkish voters go to the polls to elect 550 deputies, 3,215 mayors and 40,543 village headmen in a double headed general and local election.
A total of 21 parties are taking part in the ballot, which is being held ahead of schedule, yet one party in particular is attracting a great deal of attention both in Turkey and abroad - the Fazilet, or Virtue, Party (FP), which is widely held to be a continuation of the banned pro-Islamist Welfare Party (RP). Opinion polls suggest that the FP is on course to become the largest party in the new parliament and to retain its grip on the country's two largest cities - Istanbul and Ankara.
The RP also emerged from the previous 1995 general elections as the largest party and proceeded to establish a coalition government with Tansu Ciller's conservative True Path Party (DYP). This lasted up until July 1997, when pressure from the country's staunchly secular military led to a "soft coup" and the government's removal. Subsequently, the State Security Court moved to ban the RP on the grounds that it had an anti-secularist agenda and to sentence several of its leading lights to prison sentences. The RP's deputies and supporters then moved en masse to a new party, the FP.
The fear among Turkey's secular establishment now is that the FP's forthcoming election success will lead to a repeat of the previous scenario. In early February the current prime minister, the veteran social democrat Bulent Ecevit, issued a circular to all ministries and governorships demanding that they apply legal procedures against any "reactionary" activities. "Reactionary" is the code word used for Islamist. Ecevit has also set up a special committee to co-ordinate this move.
At the same time, while the State Security Court has moved to ban the Kurdish People's Democracy Party (HADEP) ahead of the elections, the move has also been interpreted as a warning to the FP that it too may face banning. Nuh Mete Yuksel, the prosecutor of the Ankara State Security Court, said recently "There is evidence that the FP is a continuation of the RP, as the high ranking administrators of both parties are the same." The implication being that as the RP was banned, its continuation should be banned too.
However, Mehmet Metiner, a senior advisor to the FP leader, Recai Kutan, and a prospective parliamentary candidate in the upcoming elections, was at pains to point out to this magazine that the FP is not simply a continuation of...