Turkey’s AKP Offers Speakership to Non-Islamists

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s ruling AK Party offered an olive branch on Wednesday to the powerful secular elite by proposing a non-Islamist for the post of parliamentary speaker, but it has yet to say who will be its choice for president.
The Islamist-rooted AK Party is naming candidates for the top jobs in Turkey’s state hierarchy following its landslide win in July 22 parliamentary elections.
But the secularists, including the army generals, are closely watching its every move and are worried it will again pick Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, an ex-Islamist, for the presidency. The secularist camp blocked Gul’s candidacy in May.
The leader of Turkey’s second biggest opposition party said there would be a new political crisis if Gul ran again.
But the naming of Koksal Toptan, a moderate conservative, as the AK Party’s candidate for speaker, a post that ran’s second only to that of president in Turkey, will please secularists and suggests the party is seeking compromise, analysts said.
Toptan does not have an Islamic background and his wife does not wear the Muslim headscarf. He has served in several secular, centre-right governmen’s, including as education minister.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party has a big parliamentary majority, virtually guaranteeing Toptan’s election. A first round of voting is scheduled for Thursday.
Toptan will replace the Islamist-minded Bulent Arinc, who announced on Tuesday he would not seek re-election as speaker.
Initial reaction from opposition parties was positive.
"Turkey is entering a new period. This is a new start. Compromise is very important … We hope Toptan will not act as a ruling party speaker and will be fair to all sides," opposition lawmaker Onur Oymen told NTV television.
Analysts also welcomed Toptan’s nomination.
"Things are moving in the right direction, namely one of a compromise approach," said Simon Quijano-Evans, an emerging markets expert at CA IB bank.
But Turkey remains on tenterhooks over who will be the AK Party’s presidential candidate, with some media speculating that Erdogan himself wants Gul to withdraw from the race to avoid fanning tensions with the military.
A decade ago, the army ousted a government it deemed too Islamist. Gul had served in that government.
The president in Turkey is commander in chief of the armed forces and also appoints many judges and university rectors. Secularists fear Gul as president would chip away at the separation of religion and state. He strongly denies that.
The leader of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) said Gul should not become head of state.
"If the AK Party perceives the (July) election results as political approval to continue its stubborn and confrontational policies (over the presidency), a new crisis will be unavoidable," Devlet Bahceli told his MPs.
But Erdogan may face turmoil in his party if Gul is forced to step aside due to opposition pressure so soon after the centre-right, pro-business AK won re-election so decisively.
Erdogan is expected to name the AK Party’s presidential candidate in the coming days. Media say he wants a new president elected by the parliament before naming his new cabinet.


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