ANKARA,Turkey (Reuters) -- Turkey's newly re-elected parliament will start voting for a new president on August 20, its speaker said on Friday, after the process was derailed in May by the country's powerful secular elite.
Foreign Minister Adbullah Gul's potential presidential candidacy would split Turkish political society
Koksal Toptan, a member of the ruling AK Party who was elected speaker on Thursday, said the second round of voting would be on August 24 and a third and probably decisive round on August 28, confirming dates earlier reported by Reuters.
Friday marks the start of a 10-day period during which applications to run for the top post must be made, he said. Financial markets are nervously watching the election, fearing that a decision by Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul to run could reignite political tensions.
Gul, an ex-Islamist and a key architect of Turkey's European Union membership bid, has signaled he will make a second bid for the top job despite stiff opposition from the secular elite, including army generals.
The secularists derailed a first attempt in parliament in May to have Gul elected president, forcing Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to call an early parliamentary election. The Islamist-rooted AK Party won a sweeping victory on July 22 and now holds a majority of seats in parliament, sufficient to put their man into the presidential palace.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan signaled the AK Party might field more than one candidate in the election, but declined to be more specific in comments to reporters. "We will evaluate the presidential election process on Monday in the cabinet and at the (AK Party) central executive board meeting," Erdogan said.
Gul is a controversial figure in Turkey, which is officially secular but predominantly Muslim, because of his Islamist past. His wife wears the Islamic headscarf, seen by opponents as a provocative symbol. Gul, a gently-spoken diplomat, denies any Islamist agenda.
A source close to Gul told Reuters the foreign minister was determined to run again. The candidacy of Gul has split the AK Party. Some senior members want the party to use their sweeping re-election win to push through reforms and avoid getting bogged down in renewed clashes with secularists.
"(Gul's decisive attitude) will put Erdogan and the party into a difficult position. I wonder how skillfully Erdogan will manage to overcome this problem," said another senior AK Party member, also speaking on condition of anonymity. The army ousted a government 10 years ago in which Gul served as a minister because it was deemed too Islamist.
The main opposition Republican People's Party, which helped scupper the previous attempt to elect Gul, has called on the AK Party to field a compromise candidate for head of state. Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul, whose wife does not wear the headscarf, has been mentioned as one possible compromise.
In Turkey, the government holds most power but the president can veto laws, block appointments of officials and appoints judges. The president is also the army's commander-in-chief. E-mail to a friend
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