Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Turkish update

An update to the piece about Turkey contained in this post from Saturday.

The secularists succeeded in convincing the nation's highest court to annual the parliamentary vote that had favored Abdullah Gul. The "technicality" mentioned in the earlier post was the claim that the constitution requires 2/3 of the parliament be present to have a quorum. Because opponents boycotted the session, that threshold was not reached. The AK Party insisted a simple majority was sufficient, but the court sided with the opponents.

The BBC correspondent there said that
the court is officially independent but had been under immense pressure to reach precisely the verdict it did.
Such pressure included the statement from the military brass that
the Turkish Armed Forces are a party in those arguments [about the future of the country], and absolute defender of secularism. ... It will display its attitude and action openly and clearly whenever it is necessary.
Some took that to mean that a coup was being threatened should Gul be elected, giving the AK Party, with its Islamist roots, dominance over much of the government. Others, it appears, took it somewhat less ominously and regarded it as a threat of action only if a Gul government moved away from the legal secularism that has marked modern Turkey. In either event, it set up a rather dark backdrop against which events will play out.

However, that was not the only source of pressure, as a rally in support of secularism drew over 700,000 people to Istanbul on Sunday, just two weeks after a similar event drew some 300,000. Meanwhile, business leaders called on the court to annul the vote.

Now that the court has ruled, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for early elections for parliament. They could be held as early as June 24 rather than, as now scheduled, in November. He also called for a constitutional amendment that would change the president from someone chosen by the parliament to one seven-year term to one chosen by popular election to up to two five-year terms, with expanded powers. Stay tuned.

Interestingly, while the AK Party dominates parliament, it does not dominate the electorate. When It came to power in 2002 it got 66% of the seats in Parliament - but it got just 34% of the vote.

Footnote: When I said in my earlier post that Gul was suspected of Islamist sympathies because his wife wears the traditional headscarf, I recognized the symbolism involved but I didn't appreciate the intensity of the feelings surrounding it. Not only would she be the first First Lady to wear a headscarf, but the roots of secularism in modern Turkey, founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, are so strong that wearing such a scarf in government offices and schools is illegal.

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