Islamic party leader defies order to stay out of politics But some in Turkish group plan to unite under new name, different leader

January 18, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- When Turkey's highest court banned the Islamic-oriented Welfare Party on Friday, it also ruled that the party's leader, former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, could not participate in politics for the next five years.

Yesterday, however, Erbakan gave no hint that he was ready to step out of public life or to leave the leadership of the Islamic movement to which he has devoted the past 30 years. He has survived jail, exile and a military coup, and he believes he can also survive a court ruling against him.

"This incident has not even the slightest importance to our great cause," Erbakan told a cheering crowd in front of Welfare's headquarters. "A great new Turkey will be founded as soon as possible. Everything has been taken into consideration. Everything has been worked out."

Jubilant supporters responded by waving Erbakan's portrait and shouting, "Erbakan prime minister!"

Younger figures in the party, however, want to push the 71-year-old Erbakan aside. They blame him and his inner circle for the excesses that led to the ban on their party and want leadership of the Islamic movement to pass to a new generation. Their ambitions could lead to a split in the movement, just as personal rivalries have split the center-right and center-left.

In several parts of the country yesterday, strategists from the banned party met to discuss their plans. Several said they were determined to found a new party despite a provision in the Turkish constitution that stipulates that a banned party "cannot be reopened under another name." That stipulation has in the past proved difficult to enforce.

One young figure in the party, Lutfu Esengun, asserted yesterday that Islamic voters would unite behind "a new party with a new leader." He said it was "too early to mention names for a new leader," but the most likely candidate is the mayor of Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 43.

A member of Parliament elected on the Welfare ticket, Bulent Arinc, who like his Welfare colleagues will become an independent after Friday's verdict is officially published, said that the party had made mistakes and that its successor "will adopt a milder tone."

Commentators who have supported Islamic politics insisted yesterday that the ban on Welfare had not seriously weakened their movement and might even have strengthened it.

"Judges condemned Galileo," said the essayist Abdurrahman Dilipak, "but the world continued to turn."

Pub Date: 1/18/98

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