08/27/2007, 00.00
TURKEY
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Tomorrow president Abdullah Gul will be elected, “moderate” and “Islamic”

by Mavi Zambak
After two failed votes, tomorrow he will be elected without doubt. He has succeeded in gathering Kurds and liberals to his candidacy. Fears surround his Islamic past and the virtual state monopoly that Erdogan’s party will have, but the industrialist support him. Gossip on the First Lady’s veil.

Ankara (AsiaNews) – At 15.00 hours tomorrow, Turkey’s parliament will be holding the third round of voting to elect the XI President of the Republic.  All quarters now give for certain the victory of Abdullah Gul, a native of  Kayseri –in the heart of Cappadocia – 57, fluent in English and Arabic, former minister for Foreign Affairs and pupil of the current prime minister Erdogan.

Last April the candidacy of Gul by his AKP party (the Islamic inspired formation currently in power) failed to gain the necessary two thirds majority in Parliament (367 out of 550) after the CHP (Republican party founded by Ataturk) boycotted the vote because of their objection - then and now – to a president whose wife wears the veil and who has a past as a militant in two Islamic parties.  All of the above led to a political crises, forcing the Turkish people to an anticipated general election, held on July 22nd.

Empowered by their landslide victory, the AKP has once again put forward their candidate to the presidential elections.  But last week, twice over the ballot led to black smoke: on August 20th he received 341 votes in the Ankara Parliament – all his party deputies voted en masse; the second round held on August 24 also failed to produce a victory when he obtained only 337 votes, 29 less than the necessary two thirds (367) of the entire Parliament (550 seats).

But now the game is over and fate has been sealed: tomorrow, on the third round of voting, a simple majority of 267 votes, that is half plus one of the 550 Parliament members, will concede victory to the AKP candidate.

If it is so, the military will have no other option than to stand by and watch.  The military who, in April published a memorandum via Internet clarifying that Turkey’s President must be “a secularist by name and nature and not only in words” and threatening a military coup should Turkey’s secular tradition be attacked.  Now it seems that their hands are tied: they certainly cannot be seen to go against the will of the people, thus, while uncomfortable with the idea of a First Lady with the veil in the presidential palace, they will have to come to terms with a done deal and limit themselves to safeguarding the country’s secular roots.

A diplomat who seeks to calm

But who really is this probable eleventh President of the Turkish Republic?  Appreciated for his moderate positions, disinclined to extremism despite his militant involvement in political campaigns during the course of his career, author of the democratic reforms necessary to allow admission to the European Union, Abdullah Gul held a high profile role as Foreign Minister in the 59th government (of which he is also vice president) o the Republic of Turkey, which includes negotiations for the re-unification of the island of Cyprus.

Gul, a respected diplomat who has been at the head of negotiations on Turkey’s entry into the European Union, has been strenuously defended and supported by the Prime Minister Erdogan.  Gul himself continues to defend his position, stressing that he will be a moderate and secular president and that no-one should fear for the founding values of the Republic.  What remains a fact however, is that with Gul in the presidential palace, the premier’s party will have great freedom of power, and will be able to present constitutional reforms which could undermine judicial power as well as that of the military, islamifying the country.  Abdullah Gul has promised impartiality and guaranteed that Turkey will remain a secular state and if one goes by his declarations to the effect, he seems the man of compromise which the country has long sought.

«I put myself forward as a candidate because it is the will of the people – said Gul.  This candidacy is an expression of democracy.  Turkey is a democratic and secular state and I will be an impartial president. No-one should doubt this». He has also sought to calm Brussels’ concerns: «Turkey has grown over these years, also in international standing: now we must push ahead with the necessary reforms to enter Europe». Important words, but words which half of the country still does not believe.  The Republican Chp party, the principal voice opposition defined Gul’s candidacy to the Head of State as a «threat to democracy». Neither does his name please the Nationalist Mhp party, who however participate in the vote in order to make up the legal quorum. Independent Kurdish deputies are instead content; by giving their support they could ask Erdogan for those long desired special laws for the east of the country in exchange. 

And what do the secularists thick? The oceans of people, who on four separate occasions took to the streets of Turkey’s most important cities, now seem strangely silent.  Perhaps because they are not happy with the military’s continual interference? Perhaps because in the face of a corrupt party that has distanced itself from the people, such as the CHP, they too have preferred to vote AKP? Perhaps because the profile of the moderate Islamic AKP deputies has radically changed compared to the previous elections.  Vatan newspaper observes: of the 341 deputies of premier Erdogan’s party only 90 have a past in militant Islam, most of them in Milli Gorus (national opinion) an organisation founded in the ‘70’s by the father of radical political Islam, Necmettin Erbakan. Of the AKP deputies over 100 define themselves as “liberal”, grouping together university professors, leading businessmen, or ex public officials; 70 of those elected ion the AKP list come from secular leftist parties and 6 are ex nationalists; and of their 30 women elected deputies, none of them wears the veil.

Support from the business world

Business circles, who at first had expressed their concern over a concentration of power in the hands of an Islamic rooted party, now seem to have given their consent.  Arzuhan Yalcindag Dogan, president of Tusiad (Confederation of Industries) who on April 19th in Brussels opposed the candidacy of Erdogan to the Presidency of the republic, met with Abdullah Gul in a show of esteem and support, declaring hi man the ideal man for the post.

Erdogan continues to react to attacks on his prodigy, defending his adhesion to the Constitutions’ secular roots:  “We do not aim to destroy the nations’ secular nature”, he declared in his latest press conference, during which he also addressed opposition to the posts of Parliament Speaker, Prime Minister and President being filed by the same party, pointing out that this has happened and still happens in many European countries and even in Turkey’s own past in 1989 with the ANAP party (Motherland Party).

For many the problem is not only that one single party controls the most important institutional posts but the fact that the party is AKP, Islamic in name, culturally conservative by nature, but extremely liberal in terms of the economy.

First Lady with a veil

Meanwhile the question of women with veils continues to prove problematic.  The stylist of the future First Lady assures that Hayrunnisa Gul will wear simple, modern clothes suited to her role as the wife of the President of the Republic, that she will continue to wear the veil but will propose new models inspired by the famous stars of Hollywood, who were not afraid to cover their head with a scarf, as is seen in the many photo’s of Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner, Audrey Hepburn and Catherine Deneuve still found in today’s magazines and newspapers.

There is also talk however of new reforms which will give women – students, teachers and employees – the possibility to wear headscarves in public places and schools: a female whim or a new Islamism? We will soon see.

 

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