ANKARA, (Reuters) – Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul was quoted on Friday as saying he remained a candidate for Turkey’s presidency despite the cancellation of an election in parliament and stiff opposition from the country’s secular elite.
The ruling AK Party’s decision last month to propose Gul, an ex-Islamist, for the top job sparked a political crisis in Turkey that resulted in his withdrawal from the contest.
In a fresh and potentially risky twist, the AK Party won parliamentary approval on Thursday for sweeping constitutional reforms aimed at bypassing secularist opposition. They envisage the president being elected by the people, not by parliament.
Asked whether he would again be a candidate if voters were allowed to pick the president, Gul was quoted by the state Anatolian news agency as saying: “Our candidacy continues.” “We said we would go to the people as parliament is deadlocked. The constitutional changes have been made,” Gul was quoted as saying.
Turkey’s staunchly secular outgoing president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, often at odds with the government, is widely expected to veto the constitutional changes.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan may then call a referendum on the reforms. Opinion polls show strong public support for a directly elected president.
Investors are wary of the tensions between Erdogan’s government and the secularists, who include Turkey’s top judges, army generals and opposition parties.
Erdogan has called a general election for July 22 and his party is expected to win most votes, though it may not have enough to form a single-party government again.
If the constitutional amendments have not been implemented, the new parliament will then choose Sezer’s successor. If AK lacks a big majority, Gul is unlikely to be elected president.
The powerful military has signalled it will not accept Gul as president because of his Islamist past. The army has ousted four governments in the past 50 years, most recently in 1997 when it moved against a cabinet in which Gul served.
The AK Party, which has presided over strong economic growth and the launch of Turkey’s historic European Union entry talks, denies any Islamist agenda.