Turkey party requests early poll

Türkiye Materials 2 May 2007 13:37 (UTC +04:00)

( BBC ) - Turkey's ruling AK party has asked parliament to approve early general elections amid deadlock over who should become the country's new president.

The party formally proposed 24 June for the polls, which were set for November.

The moves comes after Turkey's constitutional court annulled last Friday's vote to elect a new president.

Secularist opposition parties boycotted the vote to prevent the ruling party candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, from winning.

They accuse Mr Gul of having a hidden Islamist agenda and say that if he became president it would threaten Turkey's secular tradition.

The row over the presidency has exposed deep divisions in a country founded on strict secular principles.

On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people rallied in Istanbul in support of secularism. The army has also warned that it will not permit Turkey's secular traditions to be compromised.

On Tuesday, the constitutional court backed the opposition's argument that a quorum of two-thirds of the 550 lawmakers was not present for the first round of presidential voting.

A total of 361 lawmakers voted - 357 for Mr Gul - but 367 were needed to make a quorum, the court said.

Speaking after the court decision, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Turkish people should resolve the row.

"The parliamentary system has been blocked... We are urgently going to the people. Our people will make the best decisions," he said.

He also called for the constitution to be changed to allow the president to be elected by popular vote, rather than by parliament.

Mr Erdogan also pledged to move forward with a new round in the presidential vote, but his candidate remains unlikely to secure the required two-thirds majority.

Analysts say Mr Erdogan's election move is an attempt to create a fresh mandate to end a crisis that has tested Turkey's secularism and hit the stock market.

His party has presided over a period of strong economic growth and would fare well in general elections, analysts believe.

If Mr Gul does become president, he will be the first incumbent to have Islamist roots, and the first president whose wife wears an Islamic headscarf.

But Mr Gul and Mr Erdogan deny there is any hidden Islamist agenda, and Mr Gul has pledged to adhere to the republic's secular principles if he were elected.