Turkey elects Gul president despite army anger

28.08.07 @ 17:27

  1. By Honor Mahony
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Foreign minister Abdullah Gul has been elected as president of Turkey, making him the first person with a background in islamist politics to take on the post since the secular Turkish Republic was established in 1923.

  • Abdullah Gul - known as a skilled politician (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Mr Gul beat off two opponents on Tuesday afternoon (28 August) in a third round of voting gaining 339 votes, 63 more than the simple majority needed.

His election campaign has been fraught with tension between the islamist-rooted ruling AK party and the army, which jealously guards the separation of church and state in the mainly-muslim country.

The AK party previously attempted to have him elected as president in April. Mr Gul missed getting the post by a narrow margin but the army flexed its muscles at the time saying it was the "defender" of secularism.

The standoff between the army and the government prompted the AK to call snap elections which in July returned the party to power with a stronger majority.

On Monday, the army made similar warning noises, once again reviving memories of the four military coups it has staged in the past fifty years.

"Our nation has been watching the behaviour of those separatists who can't embrace Turkey's unitary nature, and centres of evil that systematically try to corrode the secular nature of the Turkish Republic," said Turkish military chief Yasar Buyukanit, in a statement on the military's website on Monday.

It fears that Mr Gul will undermine Turkey's secular roots. He comes from a background of more radical Islamic politics.

Much has also been made of the fact that Mr Gul's wife wears a headscarf – Islamic headgear that is banned in official buildings.

However, Mr Gul has since established himself as a moderate politician. In 2001, he founded the AK party (Justice and Development Party) along with current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He has also promised to uphold the country's secular tradition. The presidential post – it is a seven-year term - is largely ceremonial but it does giver the holder the right to veto legislation.

Critics of Mr Gul's election are wondering whether he will use this power if any future legislation undermines the separation of religion and state.

On the European stage, meanwhile, Mr Gul has gained a reputation as a skilled politician and is a strong proponent of Turkey's bid for membership of the European Union.

The European Commission, which in the past has warned the military on its sabre-rattling, was quick to congratulate Mr Gul.

"This represents a considerable achievement for Turkey and the Turkish people," said commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.