Turkey’s presidential campaign rhetoric heats up

Turkey’s prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, is under fire from the press and other non-governmental institutions in Turkey’s latest battle over the candidacy of Abdullah Gul for the presidency. While the secular nature of the state of Turkey is guaranteed by the constitution, Gul is a former Islamist. Even worse, his wife wears an Islamic headscarf.

“The people who say that [Gul is not my president], must renounce their citizenship,” Prime Minister Erdogan said on television Monday, a reference to columnist Bekir Coskun of the nation’s largest daily newspaper, Hurriyet.

In an August 15 column Coskun had written that Gul would “not be my president”. “From now on no one can speak of a secular state… political Islam has taken another step forward.”

On Wednesday Erdogan’s critics started weighing in.

Leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Deniz Baykal:

“It is clear that tolerance, democratic thought and a sense of law does not lie behind these comments. How can the prime minister tell a respected journalist to leave Turkey?”

Radikal newspaper columnist Murat Yetkin:

Erdogan’s comments echoed those of far-right groups who in the past had used to say about Turkey “love it or leave it”.

Sedat Ergin, a columnist at leading liberal daily Milliyet:

“Prime Minister Erdogan showed the understanding of an autocratic leader. In the next statement, he may even send dissenting writers into exile.”

turkey-demo-resample.jpgTurkey’s president is elected by the legislature. The first two rounds of voting were on 27 April and 6 May, where the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was unable to get a two-thirds majority for Gul, after millions marched in public demonstrations for secularism. An election returned the AKP to power with a larger majority, and Gul was once again selected as the candidate.

turkey-gul.jpegThe first round of voting on August 20 failed to elect Gul and a second round was scheduled for August 24.

Gul is expected to be elected on August 28 when only a simple majority of the legislature will be required. Unless, of course, the military steps in to prevent an Islamist government as they did in 1997.

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