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Turkey's ruling party asks parliament to declare early general elections

Turkey's ruling party asks parliament to declare early general elections

Turkey's Islamic-rooted ruling party asked parliament Wednesday to declare early general elections for June 24, opening the way for an easing of tensions with the secular establishment.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the request in response to secularists' fears that his government, by proposing a candidate for president with an Islamic background, would allow religion to have more influence over politics and so undermine their Western way of life.
By holding early general elections, Erdogan hopes to resolve a crisis sent the stock market tumbling and prompted the pro-secular military to threaten to intervene.
"God willing, Turkey will get back on track," Erdogan told reporters late Tuesday, referring to the economic and political stability that Turkey had enjoyed in recent years.
On Tuesday, Turkey's highest court annulled the first round of a parliamentary vote that looked certain to lead to the ruling party's candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, becoming president.
The Constitutional Court's ruling _ which came after a challenge from the opposition on the legality of Friday's first round vote _ was a victory for staunch secularists in the country, and a setback to Erdogan's government.
The prime minister said parliament would hold a new presidential vote on Thursday, and Gul, whose wife covers her hair with an Islamic-style head scarf, has said he will not withdraw his candidacy.
At the heart of the conflict is a fear that the ruling party would use its control of both Parliament and the presidency to overcome opposition to moving Turkey toward Islamic rule. Fears have been fanned by the actions of Erdogan's party in the past.
It has tried to ban adultery and banned the sale of alcohol in cafes run by its municipalities, while also encouraging the opening of religious schools and has spoken of lifting the ban on Islamic head scarves in public offices and schools.
More than 700,000 pro-secular Turks demonstrated in Istanbul on Sunday, many of them women who believe political Islam would deprive them of personal freedoms and economic opportunities.
Secularists are deeply skeptical of the government despite its stated commitment to secularism, as well as reforms aimed at gaining membership to the European Union, because many ruling party members made their careers in Turkey's Islamist political movement. Erdogan once spent several months in jail after reciting an Islamic poem that prosecutors said had incited religious hatred.
The ruling party has advocated an eventual move toward a U.S.-style presidential system with a more powerful executive, adding to concerns about a president with an Islamist tilt.
Erdogan also said he would push for a referendum if necessary on a constitutional amendment allowing the president to be elected by popular vote.
"If we cannot get the Parliament to choose a president, we will take this subject to the people and we will find a way to open presidential elections to our people," he said.
"With the decision of the Constitutional Court, the parliamentary democratic system has now been blocked," Erdogan added. "To get rid of this blockade and lift the rule of the minority over the majority, the only door to go to is the nation. Then, we are going to the nation."
Parliament, which since 2002 has been dominated by pro-Islamic politicians from Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party, elects the president in Turkey. In the first two rounds of voting, a candidate needs two-thirds of the lawmakers' votes to win, but by the third he needs only a simple majority.
The Constitutional Court ruled Tuesday not enough legislators were present during the first round of voting. The opposition had boycotted the vote, depriving the ruling party of a quorum of two-thirds of lawmakers in the 550-seat Parliament.
The bitter debate over the role of Islam in politics has exposed deep divisions in Turkey. Pro-secular groups say the ruling party, which came to power in 2002 with 34 percent of the vote, did not have a strong popular mandate even though an electoral quirk gave it 66 percent of the seats in Parliament.
The showdown has also led to fears that the military could intervene and push the elected government out of power.
Those concerns were heightened Friday when the army said it was watching the process with concern and reminded Turks that it was "the absolute defender of secularism" and would act to prove it if necessary.
Erdogan said such actions "would weaken our country's institutions and would cause the country to lose blood."
"If the blood loss starts, than its price could be heavy for our nation as it happened in the past," he said.
In 1997, the military pushed pro-Islamic Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan out of power, sending tanks into the streets in a message that any concessions on secularism would not be permitted. It staged three other coups between 1960 and 1980.
The founder of modern, secular Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was an army officer who established the republic in 1923 after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, giving the vote to women, restricting Islamic dress and replacing the Arabic script with the Roman alphabet. Wearing an Islamic headscarf, as Gul's wife does, is illegal in government offices and schools.
But Islam remains a powerful and attractive alternative for many Turks in this predominantly Muslim nation of more than 70 million.
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Associated Press Writer Benjamin Harvey in Istanbul contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-05-14 15:06 GMT+08:00