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Ethnic Voting

THE outcome of Sunday's round of elections in Turkey and Ukraine are not yet conclusive. But something of the new stirrings in these key geopolitical regions can be seen in what has emerged so far from the voting. Both outcomes prove that much stronger ethnic, religious, and national allegiances are forming in these regions - developments that may make the areas less stable in character, and in some cases increase an anti-Western tilt.

In Ukraine, Russians in the east voted in various referendums to form closer ties to Moscow. The majority Russian population in the eastern industrial Donbass region voted by a 10-to-1 margin for economic integration with Russia.

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While the vote was a plebiscite and has no binding legal basis, it is the first open statement of an internal ethnic division in Ukraine since the referendum for independence in 1991. The Russian parliament in Moscow, itself quite nationalist, is now expected to put forward some kind of resolution welcoming a new relationship with ethnic Russians in what in post-Soviet reality is another state, albeit a bordering one. This, in turn, may force a weakened Russian President Boris Yeltsin to make a tough choice: satisfy domestic popular opinion in Russia, typified by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, which is siding with Ukrainian separatists; or please the international community, which will expect Mr. Yeltsin to uphold the sovereignty of an independent Ukraine.

In Turkey, 32 million voters turned out for local elections in what was seen as a referendum on Premier Tansu Ciller's conservative True Path party government. Ms. Ciller, who took over from Turgut Ozal last year, had been under attack not only for a Turkish economy in increasing disarray, but also for the pro-Western and secular slant in a country that is becoming more demonstratively Islamic. Her approval rating in February was 15 percent.

Yet while Ciller's True Path did better than expected in Sunday's vote, the story of the elections is the significant gain of the Islamic Welfare Party, which has doubled has its numbers since 1989. The Welfare Party is the political arm of a vast process of grass roots Islamic institution-building inside Turkey by ardent Muslims who call for an anti-Western theocracy.

The Turkish election confirms that Islam has moved into a vacuum in Turkish politics, and is the main opposition movement inside the country.

The vote in Turkey, a NATO member, has long-term implications.

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