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Turkish Parliament Fails to Pick President Again

The Turkish parliament, dominated by the ruling Justice and Development Party, has failed to get its candidate elected as President in a second round of balloting. Abdullah Gul, the sole candidate running for the country's top post, announced he was withdrawing from the race after the parliament failed to gain a quorum during its morning session. From Istanbul, Amberin Zaman has details for VOA.

It was the latest round in the ongoing standoff between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's pro-Islamic government and Turkey's pro-secular establishment represented by the country's powerful army and opposition parties.

Opposition parties boycotted the session to prevent Foreign Minister Gul from being elevated to the presidency by leaving the government nine votes short of a quorum.

The secularists accuse Prime Minister Erdogan of seeking to steer Turkey towards Islamic rule during his four and a half years in office. They charge that if Gul, a devout Muslim, were to become president he would rubber stamp legislation that would dilute the secular tenets laid down by the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk.

The incumbent, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, is a fiercely pro-secular former judge. During his seven year's as president he vetoed government legislation deemed to threaten Turkey's secular system. He is set to step down on May 16.

With Gul's withdrawal, analysts say Mr. Sezer will stay on as a caretaker until a new parliament is elected. To end the deadlock, Erdogan has called for early general elections on July 22.

Opinion on whether Mr. Erdogan and his government have shed their Islamist roots remains sharply divided in Turkey. During the weekend tens of thousands of Turks chanting pro-secular slogans took to the streets in the western cities of Canakkale and Manisa to protest Erdogan.

Several anti-government rallies have been held during the past month in various cities including Ankara, the capital, and Istanbul. They followed threats from the Turkish military, which has overthrown four governments since 1960, to defend secularism by intervening once again if need be.

Rojbin Tugan, a prominent human-rights lawyer from the largely Kurdish province of Hakkari, bordering Iraq and Iran, believes Erdogan's government has done more to improve democratic standards in Turkey than any of its predecessors, including for the country's estimated 12 million Kurds.

Tugan notes that it was because of reforms adopted by Mr. Erdogan that the European Union agreed to open long-delayed membership talks with Turkey in 2005.

Like many commentators, Tugan believes the past week's turmoil reflects a broader struggle between those who want their country to become freer and more transparent and others, including the military, who stand to lose power and influence should Turkey join the European Union.