Turkish Parliament Confirms July 22 Election

ANKARA (Reuters)–The Turkish parliament on Thursday brought forward national elections to July 22 to try to end a standoff between secularists and Islamists that could shape modern Turkey’s future. Parliament hopes calling the poll four months earlier than scheduled will end paralysis over the election of the president which was caused by fears within the opposition and the military that political Islam was increasingly influential in Turkey. Members of parliament unanimously backed the date, despite earlier calls from the main opposition party not to hold the election in July when many voters will be on holiday. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan proposed early elections after Turkey’s top court on Tuesday upheld an appeal from the secularist opposition and ruled invalid the first round of a presidential election in parliament. Turkey’s secularist establishment, which includes the powerful military and top judges as well as opposition parties, wants to prevent the AK Party’s presidential candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, becoming head of state. Secularists fear Gul and Erdogan, both former Islamists, aim to chip away at Turkey’s separation of politics and religion, a claim they strongly deny. The Islamist-rooted AK Party is widely expected to win the general election. It has presided over strong economic growth and the launch of historic European Union membership talks since sweeping to power in 2002 following a deep financial crisis. But Erdogan also faces a strong rise in nationalist and anti-Islamist sentiment. Around one million people rallied in Istanbul last Sunday against his government and its handling of the presidential election contest. The more political parties clear Turkey’s very high 10 percent threshold for entering parliament, the greater the risk of the AK Party losing its majority and being forced to govern in a coalition that could result in slower reforms. Turkish financial markets have firmed since Erdogan called for early elections, confident that this is the best way out of a crisis that has unnerved investors and sparked calls for calm from the EU and the United States, Turkey’s NATO ally. The lira traded higher against the dollar after the vote. The main Istanbul stock market also rose on Thursday. Erdogan has vowed to press ahead with the presidential vote in parliament, even though his party is unlikely to secure the attendance of the 367 lawmakers required to make the vote valid. Analysts say the decision is a face-saving gesture designed to show voters the government has done all it can constitutionally to have its man elected. A fresh round of the presidential election will take place in parliament on Sunday. Frustrated by secularists’ opposition in parliament, the courts and the army General Staff, the government has proposed sweeping constitutional reforms to make Turkey more democratic. They include having the president elected by the people instead of by parliament, a move many voters are known to back. But legal experts question whether such reforms can be approved by a parliament now gearing up for elections. Under the constitution, outgoing President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, a staunch secularist and former head of the Constitutional Court, stays on as interim head of state until a new parliament can elect his successor.

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