The Turkish parliament today elected the foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, as president, making him the first former Islamist to hold the post.
Mr Gul had failed in the previous two round of voting when a two-thirds majority was needed. This time, only a simple majority was required – and the presidency was his after he received 339 votes in the 550-seat chamber.
As the president, Mr Gul has the power to veto legislation. He has failed to allay secularist fears that he would sign into law any legislation passed by the government of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan – a close ally – without concern for the separation of religion and politics.
Distrusted by the military because of his Islamist past, 56-year-old Mr Gul has promised to uphold secularism.
Turkey’s secularists also dislike the fact that his wife, Hayrunisa Ozyurt, wears an Islamic-style headscarf – banned in government offices and schools.
Islamic dress has been restricted in Turkey since the country’s first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, imposed secularism and western-style reforms in the 30s.
“A person who has defied the [secular] republic, who has said he finds it to be wrong, is about to move to the top of the state. This is a contradiction,” Deniz Baykal, the leader of the secular opposition, said.
Mr Baykal’s party has vowed to boycott some state occasions, including presidential ceremonies.
Secularist Turks staged mass rallies, and the military – which has overthrown four governments since the 60s – threatened to intervene when Mr Erdogan nominated Mr Gul for the presidency in April.
Mr Erdogan broke the political deadlock by calling early general elections, which the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) won easily last month.
After the AKP’s sweeping victory, in which it gained 341 seats, Mr Erdogan again put Mr Gul’s name forward on the grounds that the AKP had won a mandate.
Mr Gul rejected calls from secularist parties to step aside in favour of a non-Islamist, compromise candidate.
“It was a vote on my candidacy,” he said of the general elections. “I had to be honest to myself and to all the people who voted for us.”
As foreign minister, Mr Gul won widespread respect from his fellow Europeans in negotiations for Turkey’s membership of the EU.
He served briefly as prime minister when the AKP first swept to power in November 2002, when Mr Erdogan was banned from national politics.
In a recent meeting with foreign journalists, he said he would make use of his experiences as foreign minister to boost Turkey’s EU bid and make the Turkish presidency more active on the international scene. He added that Turkey “would be contributing more to world issues”.
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