1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Turkey Polarized

DW staff / AFP (jp)April 27, 2007

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul's bid to become Turkish president is exposing divisions between the Islamist-rooted government and its secular elite.

Abdullah Gul (left) and Erdogan are facing public protestsImage: AP

The vote is widening a growing rift between Turkey's secularists and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) -- whose candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, is almost certain to win.

The secularists, who include army generals and judges, fear Gul's election would threaten Turkey's secular system of government that separates religion and politics. Although he is widely seen as the architect of Turkey's EU bid, they object to his Islamist past and the fact that his wife wears the Muslim headscarf.

To them, the prospect of a president with an Islamist background is proof of religion steadily creeping into politics and public life. The government's supporters, meanwhile, respond with charges of crisis-mongering and flouting democracy in a country where surveys show people increasingly identify with Islam.

Amid these growing concerns, thousands of people rallied in Ankara in recent weeks against Erdogan and his party.


Türkei Demonstration gegen Ministerpräsident Erdogan in Ankara
Demonstrations in AnkaraImage: AP

Meanwhile, opposition parties boycotted the poll Friday and declared the vote invalid.

The main opposition party Republican People's Party (CHP) had threatened a boycott and said it would challenge the result in the Constitutional Court if the session convened with less than two-thirds of the legislators taking part -- hoping thereby to isolate the AKP by convincing other opposition MPs to boycott the session. The plan was then to petition the Constitutional Court to scrap the first-round vote, thus blocking the election process and forcing early elections.

"I urge all elected deputies to come and do their democratic political duty. We are facing one of the most important days of our democratic life," Erdogan had said in a last-minute appeal to deputies to attend the parliament vote Friday.

"Let us not fall into the trap of those who are trying to drag Turkey back to the customs of the past, to those periods of political paralysis," he added. "Despite our differences, the result of our democratic rivalry, we are...the representatives of the same nation," he said. "Attending the general assembly and voting -- be it for or against -- is a duty given to us by the people."

But as the vote began, the number fell short of a 367-member threshold and the CHP confirmed it would challenge the vote in court. According to the Reuters news agency, there were 360 deputies in the chamber for the vote, clearing the way for the main opposition to ask the Constitutional Court to annul the vote.

The AKP now faces the biggest crisis of its near five-year rule. If the court upholds the opposition appeal, Erdogan will have to call a snap general election within 90 days.

The candidates

Symbolbild EU Türkei Fagge in Istanbul
Gul oversaw Turkey's EU bidImage: AP

The AKP, the moderate offshoot of a now-banned Islamist movement, holds a solid majority in the 550-member assembly to secure Gul's election, but only in the later stages of the vote.

The only other candidate, dissident AKP deputy Ersonmez Yarbay, stands no chance of election.

The AKP currently controls nearly two-thirds of the legislative assembly, or 352 seats, despite winning only 34 percent of the popular vote -- a quirk of Turkey's electoral system.

The party has disowned its Islamist roots, pledged commitment to the secular system and secured the opening of membership talks with the European Union.

But some of its actions, such as attempts to criminalize adultery, isolate alcohol-serving establishments in special zones and encourage Koranic courses, have fuelled suspicions of its Islamist ambitions.

In what was seen as a last-minute maneuver to garner support, the AKP said Friday it was ready to consider several constitutional reforms advocated by the centre-right Motherland Party (ANAP) in the hope of luring its 20 deputies to vote.

The moderate Gul was picked as AKP candidate following unprecedented mass protests against Erdogan, a highly popular but controversial politician who had been widely expected to run.