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Turkey's presidential front-runner fails to win election in first round of voting

Turkey's presidential front-runner fails to win election in first round of voting

The ruling party's presidential candidate failed to win enough votes in a first round of balloting Friday in Parliament, reflecting the deep rift between the Islamic-rooted government and the secular establishment. The opposition boycotted the vote and appealed to the Constitutional Court for cancellation of the process.
A second round of voting was scheduled for May 2, and the candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, was likely to prevail by a third round if voting proceeds. But the furor over his candidacy, which critics view as a threat to the separation of state and religion, has tested Turkey's democracy at a time when it seeks entry into the European Union.
Gul, a vigorous backer of the EU bid who has vowed to respect secular traditions, received 357 votes, 10 short of the 367, or two-thirds of the 550-member Parliament, required to be elected in the first round. A bank of seats in the chamber was left empty by lawmakers from opposition parties.
"I thank all of our friends who entered the Parliament today, both those who voted and those who didn't," Gul said.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a close ally of the foreign minister, said he was hopeful that Gul would win the second round and said he was "happy because today's vote was completed in such a healthy fashion."
The opposition Republican People's Party didn't see it that way, dispatching a petition to the Constitutional Court that appealed for an end to the voting process. It argued that two-thirds of lawmakers in Parliament were not present, rendering the vote invalid and opening the way for early general elections.
"Our request for a count at the start of the session was not met," opposition lawmaker Haluk Koc said. "It is obvious that the required 367 were not there."
The ruling Justice and Development Party said 368 legislators attended, and there was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy. The ruling party said only one-third of lawmakers were needed for a quorum anyway and its members proceeded with the poll, placing envelopes in a box after voting behind a curtain.
The Constitution states that if a two-thirds majority of the total number of lawmakers cannot be reached in the first two ballots, then "a third ballot shall be held and the candidate who receives the absolute majority of votes of the total number of members shall be elected President of the Republic."
The Constitutional Court said that it will rule on the issue before the second round of voting.
The military, a guardian of secular principles that staged several coups in past decades, has largely stayed out of the public debate. But the upheaval playing out in Parliament suggested that the divisions within Turkish society were straining the democratic process in a nation that has enjoyed relative economic and political stability in recent years.
"We're a country that sends its elections to the courts," Murat Yetkin, a writer for Radikal newspaper, said in a television interview. "We've come to this point."
If voting proceeds, Gul is likely to win the election in a third round on May 9, when only a minimum of 276 votes are needed. Gul's party holds 353 seats. His only opponent was Ersonmez Yarbay, a lawmaker from Gul's party who does not have party backing and dropped out of the running on Friday.
Central Bank Governor Durmus Yilmaz said any political instability could upset the markets and hinder government efforts to rein in rampant inflation, which was at 9.6 percent last year _ well above the bank's initial prediction of 5 percent.
The president can veto legislation, and the prospect of electing Gul has unnerved Turkey's secular establishment. Hundreds of thousands of people recently demonstrated for secular ideals in the capital, Ankara, and another large rally was planned in Istanbul on Sunday.
Around 50 people protested Gul's candidacy outside Parliament on Friday, holding up Turkish flags and pictures of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the secular state.
President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who steps down on May 16, vigorously used his powers as a check on the government, vetoing a record number of legislative bills and appointments of officials.
The ruling party has supported religious schools and tried to lift the ban on Islamic head scarves in public offices. Secularists are also uncomfortable with the idea of Gul's wife, Hayrunisa, being in the presidential palace because she wears the traditional Muslim head scarf.
Both Gul and Erdogan, however, reject the label of Islamist. The government has shown openness to the West by securing stability with help from the International Monetary Fund, and seeking EU membership.


Updated : 2021-10-21 22:32 GMT+08:00