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Turkish FM poised for victory in presidential vote after months of wrangling with opposition

Turkish FM poised for victory in presidential vote after months of wrangling with opposition

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul was expected to be voted Turkey's new president Tuesday in what would be a major triumph for his Islamic-rooted government after months of confrontation with the secular establishment.
Gul's election in a parliamentary vote is widely acknowledged as all but certain, even by his opponents, and would make him the first head of state with a background in political Islam in a country with strong secularist principles.
Voting began mid-afternoon, with legislators casting ballots in envelopes, in alphabetical order according to the province they represent. The parliamentary speaker planned to announce the result once the counting was completed.
A day earlier, the military _ which has ousted four governments since 1960 _ issued a stern warning about the threat to secularism.
Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, chief of the military, said in a note on the military's Web site: "Our nation has been watching the behavior of those separatists who can't embrace Turkey's unitary nature and centers of evil that systematically try to corrode the secular nature of the Turkish Republic."
Gul's initial bid for president was blocked over fears that he planned to dilute secular traditions.
Gul failed to win the presidency in two rounds of voting last week because the ruling Justice and Development party lacked the two-thirds majority in Parliament needed for him to secure the post.
But the party _ which holds 341 of the 550 seats _ has a far easier hurdle on Tuesday, when only a simple majority is required.
Gul, 56, has promised to uphold secularism. But Turkey's president has the power to veto legislation, and Gul has failed to allay secularist fears that he would sign into law any legislation passed by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan _ a close ally _ without concern for the separation of religion and politics.
Also, his wife wears an Islamic-style head scarf _ which is banned in government offices and schools. Islamic attire has been restricted in Turkey since the country's first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, ushered in secularism and Western-style reforms in the 1930s.
"A person who has defied the (secular) republic, who has said he finds it to be wrong, is about to move to the top of the state. This is a contradiction," said Deniz Baykal, leader of the secular opposition. His party has vowed to boycott some state occasions, including presidential ceremonies.
Secularist Turks staged mass rallies and the military threatened to intervene when Erdogan nominated Gul for president in the spring.
Baykal's party boycotted the elections, creating a parliamentary deadlock that forced Gul to abandon his bid and forced Erdogan to call early general elections.
Gul insisted that he be re-nominated for president earlier this month, arguing that his party's victory in the elections gave him a strong mandate to run. He rejected calls from secularist parties to step aside in favor of a non-Islamist, compromise candidate.
"It was a vote on my candidacy," Gul said of the general elections. "I had to be honest to myself and to all the people who voted for us."
If elected as expected, Gul was scheduled to take the presidential oath in parliament later on Tuesday and take over the presidential palace from outgoing President Ahmet Necdet Sezer in the evening, in a low-key ceremony closed to the media.
As foreign minister, Gul _ who speaks English and Arabic _ has cultivated an image as a moderate politician, acting as an impassioned voice for reforms to promote Turkey's EU bid.
In a recent meeting with foreign journalists, Gul said he would make use of his experiences as foreign minister to boost Turkey's EU bid and make the Turkish presidency more active on the international scene.
"Turkey will be more active; Turkey will be contributing more to world issues," he said.
Turkey's military issued a stern warning about the threat to secularism on the eve of the vote.


Updated : 2021-04-12 03:42 GMT+08:00