Turkish vote set to remove Ecevit from power


Turks voted today in snap polls expected to rewrite the nation's political landscape and hand victory to a party with a suspected hidden Islamist agenda.

The country's 41 million voters were expected to throw out the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and put their faith instead in an untested party founded on the ashes of a banned Islamist movement.

The elections are being closely watched by the United States, a fellow NATO member, as it gears up for possible war against neighbouring Iraq, and the European Union, which has so far spurned Turkey's bid to join the bloc demanding it implement far-reaching reforms.

Voters seem determine to punish Ecevit and his three-way ruling coalition, which came to power in 1999, for an economic crisis which sent Turkey running to the International Monetary Fund for a 16-billion-dollar bailout.

The strongest contender to top the polls is the Justice and Development Party (AK).

But it is viewed with deep suspicion by the military-led secular establishment, which remains unconvinced by the party's declarations that it has traded in its Islamist views for a more mainstream stance.

Its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was barred from running in the election because of a 1998 conviction for sedition, leaving it without a candidate for the post of prime minister since Erdogan cannot be named to the post.

The party has adamantly refused to name its candidate for prime minister until unofficial poll results are declared on Monday and its insistence on keeping Erdogan as chairman has triggered a legal move to ban the party for defying the law - sparking fears of a constitutional crisis for the troubled country.

In a polling station in a mainly secular Ankara neighbourhood, voters spoke of their concern over a possible new crisis in a country which has already seen the army topple three governments in the past 40 years.

Polling stations closed at 4 p.m. (2 p.m. Irish time) after a 10-hour vote which remained free of major incidents apart from a few scuffles that left 10 injured. Five people were arrested for attempting to cheat in the polls.