ISTANBUL — REFAH, the Islamic Welfare Party that emerged as Turkey's largest political force in Sunday's parliamentary elections, will not likely be able to lead a new government.
Despite this, the vote clearly shows Turkey is at a crossroads - floundering between growing Islamic traditionalism and pro-Western and secular policies.
Refah won 21.3 percent of the total vote, a substantial gain over the 16.8 percent of the vote it won in 1991 general elections.
The center-right Motherland Party got 19.6 percent, and Prime Minister Tansu Ciller's True Path Party took 19.1 percent.
In order to form a coalition government (276 seats are needed), Refah leader Necmettin Erbakan, with only 158 of the 550 seats in the Assembly, must get the support of either the True Path Party (135 seats) or Motherland Party (132 seats).
But neither True Path nor Motherland is willing to join Refah, because of its antisecular, anti-Western program.
If Refah fails, any other formula would have to include Mrs. Ciller's True Path Party and Mesut Yilmaz's Motherland Party. They would need a third party - either the Democratic Left or the Social Democrats in order to have enough seats to govern.
But the main problem is the personal feud between Ciller and Yilmaz, who hurled insults and wildly attacked each other during the campaign.
The key issue is not whether their two parties, which have similar programs, can join forces, but how the two leaders will resolve the question of who will lead the government.
Both Ciller and Yilmaz, however, have said they are ready to consider forming a coalition if Erbakan fails. "The election campaign is over, and we have to let bygones be bygones and look to the future," Yilmaz said.
The winds change
But Sunday's elections seem to mark a significant change in Turkey's course.
"Even if Refah's access to power this time is blocked by a unity of secular forces," said the daily Sabah, "its growing influence and impact cannot be denied. Certainly there is no threat of a fundamentalist regime taking over in Turkey. But Refah is also a reality that can no longer be ignored."
Erbakan's dream is to start a movement for the unity of the Islamic world. "Turkey will become the leader of the whole Muslim world," he told the Monitor last week. "We shall introduce our Just Order doctrine to the Islamic world and will become one of the world's strongest countries."
The Just Order provides for introducing sharia, Islamic law, such as is practiced in Iran.
And Erbakan wants to change Turkey's traditional pro-Western policy. "We shall scrap the customs union with the European Union, which is a document of surrender and shame for Turkey," Erbakan said.
He also says he will immediately annul Operation Provide Comfort with the United States. The agreement enables US aircraft to use bases in southern Turkey to support their operation to protect Kurds in northern Iraq.
But the Turkish Army, which considers itself the guardian of modernization (and which intervened directly in government three times in the last three decades) is just watching.
It says it respects the outcome of the polls, and is not likely to react so long as there is no attempt to impose fundamentalism in Turkey.
Significantly though, the chief of staff Gen. Ismail Hakki Karadayl, just a day before the elections said, "The Turkish armed forces are the greatest insurance of the Turkish Republic, which is a democratic and secular state....
"Turkey has adopted a contemporary, democratic, modern, and secular outlook as opposed to all kinds of dogmatism and reaction."