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Foreign Minister Poised to Become Turkish President

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul casts his vote as members of parliament convene in Ankara on Monday for the first round of presidential elections.
AFP/Getty Images
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul casts his vote as members of parliament convene in Ankara on Monday for the first round of presidential elections.

The leading candidate for president in Turkey, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, failed to garner enough support to win a decisive victory in Monday's first round of voting, but parliament members predict he will win in a later round.

Hundreds of lawmakers were called up one by one Monday to fill out a secret ballot in four curtained voting booths set up at one end of parliament's cavernous assembly hall. As had been widely predicted, Gul, the candidate of the ruling AK Party, won the most votes, but he fell short of the two-thirds majority he needed.

Perhaps what was most unusual about Monday's vote was how normal it all seemed. After all, when Gul, a moderate Islamist politician, tried to run for president last April, his candidacy touched off a firestorm, starting with a boycott of the election by opposition lawmakers, who claimed that a Gul presidency would undermine the secular system in the majority Muslim country.


Parliament member Onur Oymen helped organize the boycott.

"Secularism is absolutely important for the survival of our democratic life because we are practically the only country in the world with a Muslim population but with a democratic system," Oymen said. "If we disturb this backbone of the society, I am afraid that we cannot survive any longer as a democratic society."

Within days of the boycott, the Turkish military published a statement on its Web site, warning about the threat of Islamic fundamentalism. Secularist Turks turned out in huge street demonstrations denouncing Gul's candidacy.

Finally, a high court ruled the election invalid because parliament failed to reach a quorum.

Last month, Gul's AK Party struck back, winning nearly 50 percent of the popular vote in parliamentary elections.


"If this is a changing of the attitude of the people, so be it," said Oktay Vural, a newspaper columnist who is close to Gul. "This is only a matter of democracy."

Vural says that after 70 years in power, Turkey's traditional secular elite has failed the people, and it is now time for a new breed of politician to take over.

"Many circles in this country didn't want to allow AK Party to have their own president in the presidential palace. They did everything in their power to stop this," he said. "But the elections change everything."

Gul served as foreign minister of Turkey for the last four years. During this period of economic growth and stability, he pushed hard to get Turkey into the European Union. But secularist Turks note that Gul's wife wears an Islamic headscarf, which is banned in government buildings. They also point to his former membership in a much more radical Islamist party, which was forced out of government by the Turkish military in the 1990s.

Today, the military appears to have given up on trying to block Gul's candidacy. As for secularist lawmakers, dozens of them boycotted Monday's vote, but this time, they did not have enough supporters to prevent parliament from reaching a quorum.

The generals and the secularists appear to have no other choice but to watch Gul become Turkey's next head of state.

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