Turkish Foreign Minister Makes Fresh Bid for Presidency

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül on Tuesday was set to visit opposition party leaders in a gesture of respect at having been re-nominated as his party's candidate for the country's presidency.

Leaders from the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) announced late Monday night that Gül would be the party's candidate, a move that will upset staunch secularists and especially the military which fear that as president, Gül would water down the strict separation of religion and state.

Europe | 23.07.2007

Without confirming whether opposition parties would give Gül their backing, the foreign minister said Tuesday that the meetings had been "beneficial and fruitful" and that he told them "how I will act if parliament elects me as president."

It was Gul's attempt to run for the presidency that triggered early parliamentary elections in July and saw Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AKP returned to power with a parliamentary majority.

Millions protested

Pro-secular demonstrators with a portrait of Turkey's founder Atatürk in April

Millions of people urged on by retired generals took to the streets in April and June to protest against the AKP and the prospect of Gül becoming president.

They objected to Gül's past involvement in conservative Islamist groups, the fact that his wife wears an Islamic-style headscarf -- no president's wife in Turkey has ever worn one -- and also at the prospect of the AKP controlling the government, the parliament and presidency.

Gül's original attempt failed thanks to a boycott of the presidential vote by opposition parties.

"If Gul is elected, Turkey's political balances will change," Deniz Baykal, head of the main opposition Republican People's Party, was quoted as saying in the Radikal newspaper. "Turkey will be transformed into a country with an overbearing religious and Middle Eastern identity."

After a late-night warning from the military that it would do whatever necessary to protect secularism, the Constitutional Court ruled that at least two-thirds of deputies in the parliament must be present for the vote to go ahead.

Aug. 20 vote

Parliament is scheduled to meet on Aug. 20 for a first round of voting on the new president.

Gül is not expected to win the two-thirds of the vote necessary to be elected in the first or second rounds, but with the AKP holding a strong majority in parliament, he is expected to be elected in the third round.

One of the main opposition parties, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has promised to take part in the vote thus ensuring that quorum will be reached.