Turkish Presidency Vote Deadlocked

ISTANBUL (AP)–The ruling party’s presidential candidate failed to win enough votes for election during the first round of parliamentary voting Friday, after an opposition boycott. The candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, received 357 votes, 10 shy of the 367 required to be elected in the first round. A second round is scheduled for May 2. The election has been marked by tensions between the Islamic-rooted government and defenders of Turkey’s secular ideals. Most opposition legislators boycotted the first round of voting and appealed its validity in the Constitutional Court. New general elections could be called if the court rules in favor of the opposition. The boycott deprived Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party of a two-thirds quorum of lawmakers needed for the election of its candidate, Gul. The presidential hopeful has been scrambling for support from other parties, reaching out to small opposition groups as well as independent lawmakers. But minutes before the voting, two small opposition parties said Friday they would not attend the voting. The Constitutional Court said it could rule on the issue within days, just before the second round of voting on May 2. Hours before the Friday vote, Erdogan criticized the opposition for boycotting the election and called on all legislators to participate. "We may be members of different parties, but we are one people," Erdogan said. "Let’s do our democratic duty under the same roof." If the second round of 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 in the 550-member house, and his only opponent is Ersonmez Yarbay, a lawmaker from Gul’s party who does not have party backing. 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. Gul has promised to uphold the country’s secular traditions amid concerns that his victory will strengthen the role of Islam in politics. "I am loyal to the republic, to secularism, to the principles of a democratic, social state ruled by law, as stated in the constitution in essence," Gul said in an interview published Thursday in the Milliyet newspaper. The run-up to the election has been marked by tensions between the Islamic-rooted government and defenders of Turkey’s secular ideals. The military, a guardian of the secular principles in Turkey’s constitution, has largely shunned the public debate. Although the post is largely ceremonial, 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. Around 50 people protested Gul’s candidacy outside of Parliament on Friday, holding up Turkish flags and pictures of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded 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 appointmen’s 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 economic stability with help from the International Monetary Fund, and seeking European Union membership. The Republican People’s Party appealed to the Constitutional Court to cancel the election because there were too few lawmakers present for the first round vote. When the session opened, a bank of seats was empty because of the boycott. Lawmaker Haluk Koc of the opposition party said "it is obvious" that 367 members were not present for the first round of voting.

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