Dispute overshadows Turkish presidential poll

Turkey’s fractious parliament will make its first attempt on Friday to elect a new president, but a procedural row and a boycott of the event by opposition MPs could yet see the process ending up in the courts.

Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s foreign minister, is the main contender for the post as the candidate of the ruling, neo-Islamist Justice and Development party (AKP). But, despite its majority of 196 MPs in the 550-seat chamber, the AKP is several votes short of the two-thirds of members required to secure election at the first ballot.

This means his formal confirmation in the post – which is certain so long as the process is not derailed by a court judgment – may not be achieved until a third round of voting on May 9, when a simple majority of MPs is required.

Mr Gul is seeking to persuade some opposition lawmakers to back him, but with little success. Some opposition MPs have no objection in principle to his elevation. But his nomination by the AKP on Tuesday has led to a political stand-off between the government and the opposition over electoral procedures and the exact number of MPs who need to be present for the presidential vote to be valid.

The main opposition People’s Republican party (CHP), the second biggest in parliament, is boycotting Friday’s vote. It is also threatening to appeal to the constitutional court, Turkey’s highest judicial body, to have the entire process annulled if 367 MPs – two-thirds of the total – are not present at the vote.

The party’s argument is without legal merit, according to constitutional scholars. Zafer Uskul, a law professor at Bosporus University, published a detailed rebuttal of the CHP case in a newspaper on Thursday. But if the court were to find in the party’s favour, it would amount to a “coup by court decree”, several commentators said on Thursday in warning of the dangers of derailing a legitimate process.

The dispute, and the poisonous atmosphere that has suddenly overtaken the political arena after the relative calm that surrounded Mr Gul’s nomination, are starting to unnerve the financial markets. Stocks and the lira were slightly weaker on Thursday.

Some political leaders have called for an early general election so that a new parliament can be in place to confirm Mr Gul in office and avoid further political polarisation over the issue.

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