Mon, Aug 20, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Turkish parliament vote in first round of presidential poll


The Turkish parliament meets today for the first round of a presidential election that is certain to see Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, a former Islamist, eventually become the country's 11th head of state.

The newly elected lawmakers will hold a secret ballot to pick a new president for a single seven-year term between candidates Gul and Sabahattin Cakmakoglu of the right-wing Nationalist Action Party.

Both men are from the central province of Kayseri, a conservative stronghold.

The head of state holds largely ceremonial functions, but has the authority to name top bureaucrats, including members of the Constitutional Court, and has a one-time right to send legislation he considers flawed back to parliament for reconsideration.

Gul is unlikely to be elected in the first and second rounds of voting, his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lacking the required two-thirds majority of 367.

But the third round of voting scheduled for Aug. 28, when a simple majority of 276 will suffice, should see him elected thanks to a comfortable majority of 340 seats the AKP gleaned in snap legislative elections held on July 22.

It was Gul's candidacy for the presidency that sparked the early vote to avert a political crisis between the Islamist-rooted AKP, which has governed Turkey since 2002, and secularists who accuse it of seeking to secretly erode the separation of state and religion.

The crisis worsened when the staunchly secularist armed forces, which have toppled four governments in as many decades, intervened with a midnight communique posted on the general staff Web site in April, making it clear that it did not welcome Gul's candidacy.

As millions of people took to the streets countrywide to protest against the prospect of an Islamist president, the opposition boycotted the vote in parliament to deny the AKP the quorum required to proceed with the vote that would have seen Gul elected.

Backed by a massive victory in last month's election -- 46.5 percent of the vote -- the AKP again presented Gul as its candidate, defying the secularists and the army, which has remained silent since.

The AKP, headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, believes the result of the poll has given it the political and moral clout to resubmit Gul's candidacy, observers say, while demonstrating that politicians have the final say in running the country and not the military.

Ten years ago, the military had not hesitated to topple the first Turkish government to be run by an Islamist premier and in which Gul was a minister of state and Cabinet spokesman.

After his candidacy was announced, Gul was quick to try to allay secularist fears, giving assurances that he is deeply attached to "the values of the republic," including the separation of state and religion.

The main opposition Republican People's Party, which boycotted the first presidential vote and has promised to do so again, has said it will not attend presidential functions.

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