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Turkey's Islamic-rooted government criticizes military in dispute over election

Turkey's Islamic-rooted government criticizes military in dispute over election

Turkey's Islamic-rooted government criticized the powerful military on Saturday, saying a statement by the armed forces that expressed concern over disputed presidential elections was not acceptable in a democracy.
The military, part of the pro-secular establishment, said late Friday that it was monitoring the elections and indicated it was willing to become more openly involved in the process, a statement that startled many analysts who described it as an ultimatum to the government to rein in officials who promote Islamic initiatives.
"It should not be forgotten that the Turkish armed forces is one of the sides in this debate and the absolute defender of secularism," the military statement said. "When necessary, they will display their attitudes and actions very clearly. No one should doubt that."
Justice Minister Cemil Cicek, the government spokesman, said the military warning to the government was "not acceptable in a democratic order."
"It is unthinkable for an institution like the military, which is attached to the prime minister, to make any statement against the government on any issue in a democratic state," Cicek said. "According to our Constitution, the military chief of staff is responsible to the prime minister."
The heightened tension between the government and the pro-secular establishment contributed to a sense of polarization in a nation that seeks entry into the European Union and has enjoyed relative economic and political stability in recent years.
Hours before the military statement, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's presidential candidate _ Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul _ failed to win enough votes in a first round of voting in Parliament that was boycotted by the opposition.
The opposition lawmakers appealed to the Constitutional Court for cancellation of the voting on the grounds that there were not enough legislators present for a quorum, and called for early general elections as the only way out of the impasse.
Cicek said the military statement appeared to be an attempt to influence the court. He said the government was loyal to secular traditions, saying it was "unthinkable for the government to be insensitive on the issue of practices that contradict our state's basic values."
However, Cicek said Erdogan had a "useful and fruitful" telephone conversation with Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, the chief of military staff.
The military has staged several coups in past decades, and in 1997 led a campaign that pressured an Islamic party _ of which Erdogan and Gul were both members _ out of government. At the time, the military warned the government to curb Islamic influences, while people took to the streets in protest over government policies.
The European Union is pressuring Turkey to reduce military influence as part of its membership bid and said Saturday that the election of a new president was a "test case" for the Turkish military's respect for democracy.
"This is a clear test case whether the Turkish armed forces respect democratic secularization and democratic values," said Olli Rehn, the EU expansion affairs commissioner.
Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said he found the timing and nature of the military statement hard to combine with democratic values.
"There can of course be differences of opinion about which person is the better suited to become president. This is the nature of democracy. But in a European constitutional democracy the military has no role to play in this process," he said in a statement.
The military commands widespread respect in Turkey but has been chafing at what it views as the increasing influence of Islam on state institutions.
Oktay Eksi, a commentator for Hurriyet newspaper, said the military statement was a "straightforward ultimatum."
"It expresses concern over the fact that if Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul is elected, the presidential palace, which is considered the last bastion of secularism, will be handed over to a person who is anti-secular," Eksi said.
The president can veto legislation, and the prospect of electing a leading member of the pro-Islamic government 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.
If the Constitutional Court rules in favor of the ruling party, Gul is likely to win in the third round when only a simple majority is required. He has promised to uphold the country's secular traditions, and has been an energetic promoter of Turkey's EU bid.
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 Islamic label. Besides the EU bid, the government has also shown openness to the West by securing economic stability with help from the International Monetary Fund.


Updated : 2021-07-31 07:12 GMT+08:00