Turkish ruling party pushes electoral reforms after crisis

ANKARA – Turkey’s ruling party moved yesterday to rush a reform through parliament that would see the president elected by popular vote, after a political crisis sparked by fears for the country’s secular tradition. At the same time, a senior minister called for healing a rift with the military which had accused the government of tolerating rising Islamist activity and threatened to intervene. «I hope we leave it here. This is to the benefit of all of us,» Deputy Prime Minister Abdullatif Sener told CNN Turk television yesterday. Meanwhile a Turkish prosecutor launched a probe into sharp criticism by Erdogan of a court decision to cancel the disputed presidential vote, the CNN-Turk news channel said. The formal investigation followed a complaint by an Ankara lawyer that Erdogan violated the law by describing the Constitutional Court ruling as a »bullet fired at democracy» during a speech Wednesday. The turmoil of the past week has marked the greatest challenge to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan since he took office in March 2003. Backed by a small opposition party, Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) submitted to parliament late Thursday a package of constitutional amendments, including a two-round popular vote for the president. The parliament’s AKP-dominated constitutional commission decided to begin reviewing the reform drafts immediately in a bid to put them to a vote in the shortest possible time. The proposals followed a Constitutional Court decision Tuesday to annul the first-round parliamentary vote for a new president amid widespread secular opposition to the sole candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, a former Islamist. The fallout forced Erdogan to bow to opposition calls for early general elections. Parliament Thursday approved bringing the polls forward to July 22 from November. The AKP says its would like the first-round of a popular presidential vote to be held simultaneously with the legislative elections on July 22. Other proposals include modifying the presidency to run for a once-renewable, five-year mandate instead of the current single, seven-year term, and the holding of general elections every four years instead of the current five. Together, the AKP and the opposition Motherland Party, which has long advocated a popular presidential vote, have the two-thirds parliamentary majority needed to amend the constitution. «The court ruling… made it impossible to elect a president in parliament. This blockage should be resolved,» Sener said yesterday. Many legal experts, however, have warned the AKP that hasty amendments could create other problems in the functioning of the state system. «One should not act with anger. It is dangerous to create an ambiguous and odd system just as a response to the Constitutional Court and the military,» the Milliyet newspaper wrote. The key provision on choosing the president reflects the AKP’s confidence in getting its candidate elected through a popular vote, without the interference of parliament. The current turmoil erupted after the prospect of an AKP president sparked a vocal secularist campaign against the party. Opponents charge that the party, the moderate offshoot of a now-banned Islamist movement, is not truly committed to Turkey’s fiercely guarded secular system and is eroding the separation of state and religion. Turk PM meets army chief for first time since clash ISTANBUL (AP) – Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with the head of Turkey’s armed forces yesterday, a week after the military threatened to intervene in an ongoing presidential election if it thought secularism was in danger. The military, which harbors deep suspicion of Erdogan and his Islamic-rooted party, became a major player in the elections last week when it said it was ready to take action as the «absolute defender of secularism» in Turkey. The statement was widely read as a warning that generals would be willing to overthrow Erdogan’s government if they thought it would stop the rise of political Islam. It was condemned by the European Union, which says the military must stay out of politics in Turkey. Erdogan’s meeting with General Yasar Buyukanit in Istanbul was not announced on official schedules and was closed to the press.