ANKARA, Turkey, (AP) -Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul was poised to become Turkey’s president on Tuesday, which if accomplished would make him the first head of state with a background in political Islam in a country with strong secularist principles.
Gul’s election is widely acknowledged as all but certain, even by his opponents — an ascendance that would mark a major triumph for his Islamic-rooted government over the secular establishment. His initial bid for president was blocked over fears that he planned to dilute secular traditions.
Gul failed to win the presidency in two rounds of voting last week because the ruling Justice and Development party lacked the two-thirds majority in Parliament needed for him to secure the post. But the party — which holds 341 of the 550 seats — has a far easier hurdle on Tuesday, when only a simple majority is required.
Gul, 56, has promised to uphold secularism. But Turkey’s president has the power to veto legislation, and Gul has failed to allay secularist fears that he would sign into law any legislation passed by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — a close ally — without concern for the separation of religion and politics.
Also, his wife wears an Islamic-style head scarf — which is banned in government offices and schools. Islamic attire has been restricted in Turkey since the country’s first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, ushered in secularism and Western-style reforms in the 1930s.
“A person who has defied the (secular) republic, who has said he finds it to be wrong, is about to move to the top of the state. This is a contradiction,” said Deniz Baykal, leader of the secular opposition. His party has vowed to boycott some state occasions, including presidential ceremonies.
Secularist Turks staged mass rallies and the military, which has ousted four governments since the 1960s, threatened to intervene when Erdogan nominated Gul for president in the spring.
Baykal’s party boycotted the elections, creating a parliamentary deadlock that forced Gul to abandon his bid and for Erdogan to call early general elections.
Gul insisted that he be re-nominated for president earlier this month, arguing that his party’s victory in the elections gave him a strong mandate to run. He rejected calls from secularist parties to step aside in favor of a non-Islamist, compromise candidate.
“It was a vote on my candidacy,” Gul said of the general elections. “I had to be honest to myself and to all the people who voted for us.”
As foreign minister, Gul — who speaks English and Arabic — has cultivated an image as a moderate politician, acting as an impassioned voice for reforms to promote Turkey’s EU bid.
In a recent meeting with foreign journalists, Gul said he would make use of his experiences as foreign minister to boost Turkey’s EU bid and make the Turkish presidency more active on the international scene.
“Turkey will be more active; Turkey will be contributing more to world issues,” he said.