ANKARA, Turkey, (AP) – Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul withdrew his candidacy for presidential elections after Parliament failed to reach a quorum Sunday needed to elect a new president, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.
Parliament was short of the 367 legislators needed to proceed with the vote after holding two separate roll-calls, Speaker Bulent Arinc said.
The vote was being repeated after Turkey’s Constitutional Court, siding with the secular opposition, annulled a first-round of voting last week saying not enough legislators were present.
“I am withdrawing my candidacy,” Anatolia quoted Gul as saying. “My candidacy is out of the question at this point.”
Legislators from the secular party — which boycotted the first-round of voting — kept away from the vote again Sunday.
The presidential elections have exposed a deepening divide between secularists and supporters of Erdogan’s party. Secularists oppose Gul’s candidacy, fearing that Erdogan’s party will expand its control and impose religion on society.
Erdogan’s ruling party, an advocate of European Union membership, rejects the label of Islamist and has done more than any other government to introduce Western reforms to the country.
The court’s decision to invalidate last week’s vote, along with increasing pressure from the public and the military, led Erdogan to call for early parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for July 22. A measure is also being debated in Parliament to allow the president to be elected directly by the people, rather than by Parliament, which is dominated by members of Erdogan’s party.
On Saturday, more than 10,000 Turks gathered in the cities of Canakkale and Manisa, in western Turkey, to protest the Islamic-rooted government, calling for Turkey’s secular system to be preserved. They followed pro-secular demonstrations in Ankara and Istanbul that were attended by more than a million people.
Although the post is largely ceremonial, the president can veto legislation and the office has been a stronghold for secularists.
Gul has said in a recent interview with the Financial Times that he hoped some legislators would change their minds when the vote is repeated in Parliament on Sunday.
He also said he would be his party’s candidate if the vote went to the people, and said he believed he had the support of 70 percent of the Turkish public.
Erdogan spent time in jail in 1999 for challenging Turkey’s secular system, and many of his party’s members, including Gul, are pious Muslims who made their careers in the country’s Islamist political movement.
Turkey’s secularism is enshrined in the constitution and fiercely guarded by the judiciary and by the powerful military, which has threatened to intervene in the presidential elections to ensure secularism is enforced.