Turkey’s Islamist Fazilat party suffered a disappointing result in the country’s parliamentary elections on April 18. The largest party in the old Parliament, they hoped to increase their largest-single party status by increasing the number of seats they won. Instead, their share of the popular vote slipped from 21 percent to 16 percent, and they finished in third place behind not only prime minister Bulent Ecevit’s Democratic Left Party but also the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Bulent Ecevit, whose rise has been based on his performance since becoming a compromise prime minister late last year, was immediately confirmed as continuing in office, with MHP backing. Both parties benefited from the nationalist sentiment raised by the arrest of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan earlier this year, as well as the widespread disillusion with the squabbling Motherland and True Path Parties.
They also benefited from the surprise decline of the Fazilat Party, which had been widely expected to give Ecevit’s party a close contest. Ecevit immediately crowed that “the use of religion for political reasons in Turkey is dead”, but the reasons for Fazilat’s decline are more complex than that. It can, to considerable extent, be attributed to the nationalist sentiment deliberately evoked by Ecevit. This is a problem to which Turks have long been prone. However, there were deeper and more profound reasons too. Important among these was a growing disillusion among Turks with Fazliat’s compromising stand. Since the banning of Refah, Islamic activists have been split between those who favoured diluting the Party’s message in order to avoid antagonising the country’s secular establishment, and those who have preferred to take a stand on Islam and defy the secularists, particularly the military.
The party has been largely dominated by ‘moderates’, though even these have proved too extreme for the military, who campaigned hard to ensure they wopuld perform badly. Most more hard-line Muslims have operated outside the party, and many were severely repressed in the period running up to the polls.
Muslimedia: May 1-15, 1999