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Turkish parliament cancels presidential poll

RIA Novosti

09/05/2007 17:57 ANKARA, May 9 (RIA Novosti) - The Turkish parliament has canceled the presidential vote after the only candidate pulled out of the race, a RIA Novosti correspondent reported Wednesday.

The parliament accepted Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul's petition to pull out of the contest, in which he had been the sole candidate, after he failed to win two rounds of voting.

A president will now be chosen by a new parliament July 22.

President Ahmet Necdet Sezer said he would remain in office until a new head of state is elected.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (also known as AK), led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, initially proposed June 24 for election day, but the head of the Central Electoral Commission said that was impossible for technical reasons.

It also proposed electing the president by direct vote for a five-year term, with a two-term limit and with the voting age lowered to 25.

The opposition said it is against the proposed timeframe and will press for a poll in July or September.

The Turkish Constitutional Court dismissed the first round of the presidential vote in parliament because too few deputies (370, six less than required) of the AK-dominated legislature turned up.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, a member of AK and the only candidate for the presidency, responded by reiterating a call for early elections to the legislature and said the political system should move to direct presidential elections.

Erdogan has avoided talking about his own presidential ambitions in the wake of protests earlier this month across the country, against what is portrayed by the powerful pro-secular military and widely seen by the public as a gradual slide toward Islamism, contrary to the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey's modern "founding father" and symbol of the country's secular identity.

Most opposition legislators boycotted the first round of voting and challenged its validity in the Constitutional Court.

The boycott deprived the ruling Justice and Development Party candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, of a two-thirds quorum in the legislature that the opposition says must be present for the voting to be valid. The ruling party has insisted that only one-third is required for a quorum.

The Turkish military high command, meanwhile, warned government leaders that it was concerned about unrest in the country associated with the presidential vote, and said it was monitoring the situation closely.

A recent protest rally in the capital Ankara gathered thousands demonstrating for secular ideals, and another massive rally was held Sunday. Many fear that a presidential victory by Gul, despite the largely ceremonial nature of the post, would lead to a greater role for Islam in Turkish politics.

"The Turkish armed forces have been watching the situation with concern, especially with regard to preserving the country's secular character," the military's Web site said in a statement. " The Turkish military will, if necessary, openly and forcefully state its position in defense of the secular order. Let no one doubt our resolve."

The Turkish military has staged coups three times since the founding of the modern Turkish state in the 1920s to restore order and maintain the country's secular form of government.

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