Tue, Aug 28, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Fears rage in Turkey over Gul

SECRET PLAN? Many on the left see military intervention in politics a greater threat than anything former Islamist Abdullah Gul and the ruling AKP can come up with

AFP , ISTANBUL

With the election of Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul to the Turkish presidency all but certain today, many secularist opponents are calling for a more moderate stance against the former Islamist and his governing Justice and Development Party (AKP).

For months, hardline secularists followed the cue of the opposition Republican People's Party's (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal to condemn Gul's candidacy as part of a secret plan by the Islamist-rooted AKP to undermine Turkey's secular regime.

Despite repeated denials by Gul and the AKP and vows of loyalty to republican values, the country was plunged into crisis as millions took to the streets to protest against a former Islamist as president.

Matters worsened when the army, which has toppled four governments in as many decades, stepped in with a threat to intervene to protect the secular system, which it said it considered under threat.

In a climate of mounting tensions and nationalism, the CHP led a boycott of the presidential vote during Gul's first candidacy in April, robbing the house of the quorum it needed and forcing early general elections on July 22.

But a massive electoral victory by the AKP means that Gul's election today will be a mere formality, and many secularists are now angrier with the CHP leadership under Baykal than they are at the prospect of an ex-Islamist as the republic's next president.

"Baykal and his friends chose to transform the CHP into a nationalist party devoid of its traditional center-left ideology," complained Zulfu Livaneli, a prominent musician and author and a former deputy who served out his term as an independent after resigning from the CHP.

"People were forced to choose between the AKP and a coalition comprising the CHP and the nationalists," he said. "They felt that such a coalition would have spelled the end for Turkey."

As far as he is concerned, Livaneli said, Gul becoming president "is not a problem."

Within the CHP itself, younger cadres, even if they remain sceptical of the AKP's pledges that it has abandoned Islamism, say their party, founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the creator of modern Turkey, should change its strategy.

"Our campaign was based solely on republican values and secularism," said Didem Engin, 30, an unsuccessful CHP candidate from Istanbul in last month's election. "This is all very important, of course, but I'm sure the people would have rather heard our proposals concerning unemployment or agricultural policy."

"We must now lead a constructive opposition instead of trying to provoke crisis after crisis or just wait for the government to make mistakes," she said, adding that she was disappointed by the CHP decision to once again boycott the presidential vote.

Further left, Ufuk Uras, an independent deputy who leads the small left-wing Freedom and Solidarity Party, shrugged off suggestions that the AKP seeks to erode secularism.

The AKP, he said, is simply "a neo-liberal, neo-conservative party typical of the globalization process."

"The important thing today is to see in which direction Turkey will evolve -- into a militarist republic, a republic of fear or into a republic of social and democratic values," he said.

Uras made no secret that he sees military intervention in politics as a greater threat than anything the AKP can come up with.

The debate on how much of an "Islamist threat" the AKP really is raging even among the ranks of the daily Cumhuriyet, the flagship of hardline, anti-AKP secularists.

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