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Turkey's AK Party to pick presidential candidate

By Staff
|
Google Oneindia News

ANKARA, Aug 13 (Reuters) Leaders of Turkey's ruling AK Party meet today to decide whether to re-submit Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, an ex-Islamist, as candidate for president despite stiff opposition from the secular elite.

The secularists, including powerful army generals, derailed an earlier attempt in May to have parliament elect Gul as president, a move that triggered early parliamentary elections which the AK Party won decisively on July 22.

Parliament has now set a first round of voting in the rerun of the presidential election for August 20.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan chaired a cabinet meeting at 1330 IST today, to be followed by a gathering of his party's executive board to hammer out a decision on the presidency.

The decision will probably be announced on Tuesday or Wednesday, party sources say.

Gul is a gently spoken diplomat and an architect of Turkey's European Union membership bid, but the secular establishment distrusts his Islamist past and the fact that his wife wears the Muslim headscarf. Gul denies any Islamist agenda.

The leader of the secularist opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) reiterated his objections to Gul's candidacy, based on his role in an Islamist-minded government ousted by the army in 1997, and his status as a founder member of the AK Party.

''Gul is a conscious member of an ideological circle,'' Deniz Baykal told CNN Turk television.

''(With Gul as president) Turkey would become a country in which the political balances were changing very fast, in which the Middle East identity would become more pronounced.'' Financial markets are watching the election nervously, fearing that a decision by Gul to run could reignite political tensions. The lira currency firmed on foreign markets.

But the indications are that the AK Party, buoyed by its big victory in the parliamentary election, will indeed pick Gul.

''Ordinary citizens and party managers are for Gul's candidacy,'' Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin said.

The pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper published a poll suggesting that even a majority of Turks who voted for opposition parties in July want to see Gul as head of state.

But Erdogan wants to avoid reigniting tensions with the secular camp. He is trying to project a more liberal, modern image for his pro-business party and, after the presidential election, needs to accelerate political and economic reforms.

To help soften secularist anger, the AK Party might field several candidates in the presidential election, analysts say, noting comments made by Erdogan that point in this direction.

Under this scenario, non-Islamist AK Party lawmakers, probably including Defence Minister Vecdi Gonul and Labour Minister Murat Basesgioglu, would compete against Gul but would quit after a first round of voting that Gul is expected to win.

The wives of Gonul and Basesgioglu do not wear the headscarf.

Both men belonged in the past to secular centre-right parties, as did Koksal Toptan, the AK Party candidate elected parliamentary speaker last week with cross-party support.

Parliament has most power in Turkey but the president appoints top judges and university rectors and is also commander in chief of the armed forces. The army, judiciary and universities are the main pillars of the secular state.

REUTERS SKB SSC1534

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