Monday, May 14, 2007

Turkish voters will elect their president directly

Under threat of a coup, the Turkish parliament has overwhelmingly decided to have the voters choose their president:
Turkish presidents, traditionally, are elected in parliament -- but parliament has just voted to give that decision to the people. Behind the reform is an old conflict between Muslims and Turkish secularists.
The current prime minister Erdogan, and his chosen nominee for president, Gül, are members of a conservative Islamic party (AKP). The military, who see themselves as defenders of the secular nation, had threatened a coup if Gül were elected by parliament.

Interestingly, it's Erdogan and Gül who believe they'll win in a direct election. The current president may veto the law to prevent it.
[The current president] Sezer is among critics ... who say the law was rushed through without enough debate. He's hinted at a veto. It's true that the Islamic-rooted, center-right AKP promoted the amendment after its presidential candidate, Abdullah Gül, lost two divisive votes in parliament.
[Gül actually won the votes of more than 60% of the members of parliament, but opponents prevented a quorum by boycotting the proceedings]
The president in Turkey controls the military, and Gül's candidacy last month tore open old wounds between conservative Muslims in the AKP on the one hand, and secularists on the other -- especially secularists entrenched in the military. The army has issued a veiled threat to the government that it may stage a coup if a candidate with Islamist roots -- such as Gül -- is elected president.
In Turkey, it's the AKP that leans towards the West. Erdogan has aggressively pursued EU membership, while secular parties have been more nationalistic.

There's no evidence that the military would not stage a coup against a popularly elected President. Protesters came out in force against the AKP yesterday, but oppose military threats as well.
Veiled threats from generals during Gül's presidential bid inflamed national tensions, and protesters in Izmir carried not just anti-Erdogan banners but also paper hats with slogans: "No to Islamic law, no to military coups: a democratic Turkey."

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