Gul set to announce Turkey presidential bid (video)

Türkiye Materials 14 August 2007 10:15 (UTC +04:00)

( AFP ) - Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul was expected to announce Tuesday that he will stand as the ruling party's candidate for Turkey's presidency once again, a move which could spark renewed political turmoil.

Turkey's ruling Justice and Development (AK) party decided Monday to stick with Gul as its presidential candidate at a meeting of party leaders chaired by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said NTV and CNN-Turk television, as well as the Anatolia news agency.

Gul was expected to meet opposition party leaders Tuesday to try to win their support before holding a news conference to announce his intention to run, they reported.

Turkey found itself in a deep crisis earlier this year after a secularist campaign blocked Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AK party from electing Gul as president.

The crisis deepened when the army issued a statement in April warning the government it was ready to step in to protect the secular order.

The opposition boycotted two parliamentary votes in April and May, robbing the chamber of the quorum required to hold a presidential vote, on the grounds that Gul was not truly committed to Turkey's secular system.

Demonstrators also took to the streets in mass protests against the prospect of a president from the ruling Justice and Development party, which secularists accuse of seeking to erode the separation of state and religion.

AK denies charges that it has a secret Islamist agenda. It has disowned its roots, pledged commitment to the secular system and carried out reforms that stabilised the economy and ensured the start of Turkey's membership talks for the European Union.

AK won 46.5 percent of the vote in July elections -- brought forward by Erdogan to stem the crisis over the presidency -- to secure 341 of the 550 seats in parliament and a mandate to govern Turkey for a second five-year term.

Lawmakers last Thursday elected a moderate conservative from the party as the new parliament speaker in a show of reconciliation after months of political tensions.

A total of 450 lawmakers in the 550-seat house voted for Koksal Toptan -- well above the 367 he needed -- as opposition deputies lent support to Justice and Development to propel him to the post in the first round of voting.

Toptan's nomination was largely seen as a bid by the ruling party to compromise with secularist forces after the row over Gul's presidential candidacy.

On Friday, the day after Toptan's nomination, parliament approved a new timetable for the fresh presidential elections, setting the first round for August 20.

The second round is scheduled for August 24, the third for August 28 and the final and fourth round for September 1. Candidates for the post have until until midnight August 19 to put themselves forward.

Gul is a moderate, pro-western figure who has steered Turkey through tough diplomatic turns over the past four years, including the start of accession talks with the European Union.

A close confidant of Erdogan, the soft-spoken 56-year-old for many represents the moderate face of the AK party, a party born out of a banned Islamist movement which now describes itself as a conservative democratic force committed to the mainly Muslim country's secular order.

Throughout his political career, Gul has acted as an emissary between his pro-Islamic parties and Turkey's western allies and has built close ties with the diplomatic community in Ankara.

Despite anti-Western outbursts by some of his colleagues in the past, Gul has maintained a conciliatory stance towards the West and Turkey's secularist establishment, which was seen as a major factor in his original nomination.

One issue that has so far overshadowed his potential presidency is the Islamic-style headscarf worn by his wife Hayrunisa. Secular Turks consider a it symbol of political Islam and do not want to see at the presidential palace.