Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Turkish Court: Islamic-leaning Presidential Vote Invalid

By Hidir Goktas ~ ANKARA (Reuters): Turkey's top court ruled the first round of presidential elections invalid on Tuesday, raising the possibility of early national elections. The government said another round of presidential polls would be held in parliament on Wednesday. The Constitutional Court upheld an appeal from the secularist opposition that wants to stop the ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party's candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, becoming head of state. "

A decision was taken to stop the process," Hasim Kilic, deputy head of the top court, told a news conference. The Constitutional Court ruled 367 members of parliament had to be present during voting for it to be valid. A total of 361 deputies voted in last Friday's ballot, 357 of them for Gul, the sole candidate. The court ruling was binding. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan could now propose a different candidate for the top job. Turkey has been rocked by the presidential poll standoff, an army threat to intervene and an anti-government rally of up to one million people.

The army, which sees itself as the final guarantor of the secular state, has ousted four governments in the last 50 years, most recently in 1997 when it acted against a cabinet in which Gul served. Turkish financial markets recorded their biggest falls in a year on Monday and the currency lost more ground on Tuesday. The lira recovered some ground on the news late in trade. Economy Minister Ali Babacan said the economy was ready for early elections, a comment seen as an attempt to calm markets. The secularist establishment fears if the AK Party secures control of the presidency it will chip away at Turkey's secular system. The party denies the charge. Parliament, in which the AK Party has a big majority, elects the president for a seven-year term in predominantly Muslim Turkey. Analysts say early national polls are the only way to defuse the standoff.

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