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Turkish Lawmakers Vote on Major Constitutional Changes

10 May 2007

The Turkish parliament has backed Thursday a proposed amendment to the constitution to enable the people to elect a new president directly. The measure is a key provision in a package of electoral reforms the chamber is debating before July 22 elections. From Istanbul, Amberin Zaman has details for VOA

During a roll call in the Turkish parliament, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was among those casting ballots.

A total of 376 lawmakers in the 550 member chamber voted in favor of a proposal to have the new president of Turkey elected by the people, rather than by the parliament.

The move proposed by Mr. Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party, better known by its Turkish initials AK, is intended to break a deadlock over the election of a new president to replace Ahmet Necdet Sezer.

Mr. Sezer was scheduled to step down on May 16. He is now expected to stay on as a caretaker until a new parliament is elected after the July 22 polls.

The Justice and Development Party is pushing to hold presidential elections concurrently with the parliamentary polls, after failing in an earlier effort to get Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul elected president.

Gul's bid was derailed by the pro-secular opposition parties who boycotted the vote. They did so on the grounds that Gul, who formerly belonged to an overtly Islamist party, poses a threat to the secular tenets of the republic. Gul denies the charges.

He told VOA in an interview earlier this week that he was determined to run for president again.

"Well definitely I am one of the leading people in this direction so definitely," he said.

The parliament also voted in favor of a measure that will make it harder for the country's largest pro-Kurdish group to field independent candidates. The group, known as the Democratic Society Party, says it plans to field independents because under the current electoral rules a political party needs to win at least 10 percent of the national vote in order to be represented in the parliament.

But independents do not need 10 percent to win a seat. The Kurdish group has never garnered more than five percent of the national vote, and its leaders hope that by running as independents they will get a seat.

The entire constitutional package needs to be approved first by the parliament and then by President Sezer, who could block it by appealing to the Constitutional Court.

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