ANKARA–Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul pressed ahead with his run for the presidency, risking a new confrontation with military commanders.
Gul registered as a candidate for the election in a ceremony at the parliament in Ankara Tuesday after meeting with the leaders of opposition political parties. Legislators will vote for a new head of state starting Aug. 20.
Turkey’s military says Gul, a pious Muslim, and his Justice and Development Party are trying to reintroduce Islam into politics and weaken the secular state set up eight decades ago after the Ottoman Empire collapsed. Army interference in government would hurt the nation’s bid to join the European Union, an effort that has drawn record foreign investment.
“Nobody should doubt that I will protect the principles of secularism laid down in our nation’s constitution,” Gul told reporters after registering. “I will also expend great effort in helping the government achieve its target of full membership of the EU.”
The military and Constitutional Court blocked Gul’s candidacy for president in April, prompting early general elections in July in which Justice was re-elected with 47 percent support, the biggest share of a Turkish vote in four decades.
The National-100 index of Turkish stocks fell 0.8 percent in Istanbul today. The lira lost 0.9 percent to 1.304 to the dollar as of 4:30 p.m.
The military’s weight is significant because generals have ousted four governmen’s since 1960 in their declared role as enforcers of mosque-state separation. Gul, 56, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 53, once belonged to an Islamist movement banned a decade ago.
“It’s back to the army now, and how they’re going to respond to Gul’s bid,” said James Ker-Lindsay, a research fellow at Kingston University in London. “It’s going to put the generals in a very tough position, and any attempt by the army to intervene in this process is going to be read as a very, very bad signal by the European Union.”
The margin of victory in July assured that Justice would retain a majority of seats in Turkey’s parliament. That will allow Gul’s election in a third round of parliamentary voting without the support of opposition parties. A two-thirds majority is needed in the first two rounds of voting. A simple majority suffices in the third round.
Still, Gul’s nomination as the head of state is a step too far for many in Turkey, where the presidency has symbolic importance as the leader of the secular, pro-Western state. The president has authority to approve or veto laws and appoint judges and is commander in chief of the military.
The government will use the office of president to turn Turkey into a Middle Eastern state by ousting judges and university rectors loyal to the country’s secular principles established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s founder, early last century, Deniz Baykal, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, warned yesterday.
The Republicans, the biggest opposition party in parliament, declined a meeting with Gul today, the CNN Turk television reported citing unidentified party officials.
“The important thing for us is that we resolve the presidential election without chaos,” Cihan Pacaci, general secretary of the Nationalist Action Party, said in a televised interview with the CNN Turk news channel. The Nationalists will attend next week’s vote in parliament, he said, without saying whether the party would support Gul’s candidacy.
“Even if the military allows Gul to become president, it will become more vigilant and is sure to wait for a first mistake by Gul or the government,” said Wolfango Piccoli, an analyst at Eurasia Group, a political-risk consulting firm in London. That may “make life difficult for the government on northern Iraq, the European Union and even privatization.”
Gul would be the first Turkish president in history whose wife wears an Islamic-style headscarf. Hayrunnisa Gul, 42, has campaigned for an end to the ban on wearing the headscarf in Turkish public buildings, filing a case at the European Court of Human Rights after Ankara University refused her a place in its Arabic-language degree course in 1998. She withdrew the legal application after her husband became foreign minister in 2004.
Moves by the government to outlaw adultery and appoint an Islamic banker as central bank chief have also raised suspicions among Turkish secularists that Justice is following an Islamist agenda. Current President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, a staunch advocate of Ataturk’s secular code, used his veto to block those measures.
Gul graduated in economics from Istanbul University, then worked as an economist at the Islamic Development Bank in Saudi Arabia between 1983 and 1991. He returned to Turkey to become a deputy for the Welfare Party. Welfare was outlawed by the Constitutional Court in 1998 for mixing religion with politics. He formed Justice with Erdogan in 2001.
Gul served as prime minister from November 2002 to March 2003 while parliament lifted a political ban on Erdogan, who had served five months in jail in 1999 for inciting religious hatred after he read an Islamic poem at a political rally.
Erdogan and Gul, allies since the rise of the Islamic political movement in Turkey in the 1970s, pledge allegiance to the nation’s secular form of government.
That didn’t stop more than a million people marching through Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, Turkey’s largest cities, in April and May against Gul’s candidacy as president. A group of retired army officers and the Ataturk Thought Association organized the marches.
Turkey “will be more crisis-prone than before after Gul’s decision to press ahead with his candidacy,” Piccoli said.