Turkey's ruling party rushed a package of major constitutional reforms through parliament on Thursday as it sought to end weeks of political stalemate over the election of a new president.
The vote for the president will be put in the hands of the people if the reforms become law
The amendments were initiated by the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party after it failed twice to get its presidential candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, elected in parliamentary votes as the current law requires.
Rushed through parliament in four days, they envisage a two-round popular vote to elect the president and call for a once-renewable five-year presidential mandate instead of the current single, seven-year term.
The bill, which has to be approved by outgoing President Ahmet Necdet Sezer to come into force, also calls for parliamentary elections to be held every four years instead of the current five.
President Sezer has 15 days to decide if he wants to return the bill to parliament for reconsideration. If it is voted without any change for a second time, Sezer has to either sign it in to law or put it on a referendum.
Many expect the staunchly secular Sezer -- who has often clashed with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) -- to send the amendments back to parliament.
A total of 376 lawmakers in the 550-seat assembly voted Thursday in favour of the amendments in a secret ballot, while one voted against, house speaker Bulent Arinc said.
AKP secure vote but opposition remains
The AKP has 351 seats and, thanks to the backing of a minor opposition party, garnered more than the required two-thirds majority -- or 367 votes -- needed for the package to be adopted.
Gul and Prime Minister Erdogan try to find an answer
The main opposition Republican People's Party had opposed the changes on the grounds that parliament should not be making radical changes to the system with a little more than two months to go to legislative elections.
Legal experts have warned that the AKP's push for such a major overhaul of the constitution is hasty and could create problems in the functioning of the state.
The AKP counters that the amendments are the solution to a damaging political crisis sparked by the presidential election.
The prospect of Gul, a former Islamist, becoming head of state sparked mass secular protests on the grounds that his election would increase the influence of Islam in all fields of life.
Opponents say the AKP, the moderate offshoot of a now-banned Islamist movement, is not truly committed to Turkey's secular system and harbours ambitions to erode the separation of state and religion.
Gul at center of secularism storm
Gul, the sole candidate, formally withdrew Wednesday, ending the presidential election process in parliament, which the opposition boycotted.
The Republican People's Party oppose the amendements
In a first round of balloting in parliament on April 27, Gul narrowly missed being elected.
Within hours, the army, which has toppled four governments since 1960, issued a stiff statement, warning of action to defend the secular system if need be.
The Constitutional Court later annulled the forum on the grounds that parliament voted without the required quorum of 367.
Lawmakers on Sunday held a re-run of the vote, which the opposition again boycotted, once again preventing the AKP from establishing the necessary quorum.
The turmoil forced Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to bring legislative elections forward to July 22 from November.
According to two opinion polls published Thurday, the AKP is still the most popular party, with a wide margin ahead of its rivals.
One survey, published in the weekly magazine Tempo, found that 41.3 percent of respondents would vote for the AKP if elections were held instantly, while the second, carried by the Vatan newspaper, put support for the AKP at 29.04 percent.
Earlier Thursday, parliament also adopted a constitutional measure widely seen as aimed at preventing militant Kurdish politicians from entering parliament.