ANKARA, (Reuters) – Turkish presidential hopeful Abdullah Gul will lobby smaller parties on Wednesday to try to block the main opposition from challenging the legality of his expected election.
The ruling AK Party picked Foreign Minister Gul, architect of Turkey’s European Union bid, as its candidate on Tuesday.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has vowed to boycott the vote in parliament on Friday because the AK Party failed to consult with them over the choice of Gul.
Analysts and diplomats said they saw little risk that Gul would not win the presidential vote because of the AK Party’s control of parliament with 354 seats out of 550. But the party needs the attendance of two smaller opposition parties in the chamber during the vote to help stave off the CHP’s legal challenge. The CHP insists at least two thirds of deputies must be present or the vote will be invalid. “The threat is a last attempt by the CHP to block the AK Party candidate, but if they take the issue to the Constitutional Court it could certainly hurt Gul’s legitimacy,” said one EU diplomat. “The AK Party wants to avoid this.”
Gul will hold talks with centre-right True Path Party (DYP) and independent MPs. Turkey’s second largest opposition party, ANAP, was due to announce its position later on Wednesday.
Turkey’s leading newspapers, often at odds with the AK Party, largely gave Gul their support. Gul, an affable moderate, is widely respected even by secularists wary of his Islamist past.
Turkey’s powerful secular establishment, which includes army generals and judges, campaigned hard to stop Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan from running for president. They accuse him of harbouring a hidden Islamist agenda and seeking to undermine the republic’s separation of state and religion.
Both Erdogan and Gul strongly deny the Islamist charges.
Turkey’s leading business association TUSIAD downplayed any threat Gul’s election might pose to the secular system.
In Turkey, the government holds most power but the president can veto laws, veto appointments of low and high ranking officials, appoint judges and is the army’s commander in chief.
As successor to modern Turkey’s revered founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the president also carries great moral weight.
The presidential debate has again brought to light how deeply divided Turkey is over strict rules governing freedom of religion. Turkey is predominantly Muslim.
Attempts by the AK Party to ease a ban on headscarves in public offices and universities, and to promote religious teachings, have in the past been blocked by secularists.
Many newspapers questioned whether Gul’s wife would be able to wear the Muslim-style headscarf at the presidential palace. The outgoing president did not allow the headscarf.
Gul as president would be a significant blow to hardline secularists, who still control much of the bureaucracy.
Cumhuriyet newspaper, mouthpiece of the secular establishment, said on Wednesday the AK Party was bent on turning Turkey into a “modern Islamic state”.