Turkish foreign minister withdraws presidential candidacy

Decision to withdraw comes after parliament fails to reach quorom to push ahead in presidential vote.

Abdullah Gul (photo credit: )
Abdullah Gul
(photo credit: )
Turkey's foreign minister withdrew his presidential candidacy Sunday because Parliament failed again to reach a quorum in voting that pitted the secular establishment against his religious-oriented party, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported. Abdullah Gul, a close ally of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was the sole candidate in the country's presidential elections. Parliament was short of the 367 legislators needed to press ahead with the voting, after two separate roll calls, Speaker Bulent Arinc. "I am withdrawing my candidacy," Gul was quoted as saying by Anatolia. "My candidacy is out of the question at this point." Sunday's vote was a repeat of a first-round of elections which the Constitutional Court, siding with the secular opposition, canceled last week on grounds that there was no quorum. Legislators from the secular party - which boycotted the first-round of voting - kept away from the vote again Sunday. The presidential elections have exposed a deepening divide between secularists and supporters of Erdogan's party. Secularists oppose Gul's candidacy, fearing that Erdogan's party will expand its control and impose religion on society. Erdogan's ruling party, an advocate of European Union membership, rejects the label of Islamist and has done more than any other government to introduce Western reforms to the country. Turkey's secularism is enshrined in the constitution and fiercely guarded by the judiciary and the powerful military. There has been increasing pressure in recent weeks from the public and the military, which has threatened to intervene in the presidential elections to ensure secularism is enforced. The court's decision to invalidate last week's vote led Erdogan to call for early parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for July 22. A measure is also being debated in Parliament to allow the president to be elected directly by the people, rather than by Parliament, which is dominated by members of Erdogan's party. On Saturday, more than 10,000 Turks gathered in the cities of Canakkale and Manisa, in western Turkey, to protest the Islamic-rooted government, calling for Turkey's secular system to be preserved. They followed pro-secular demonstrations in Ankara and Istanbul that were attended by more than a million people. Although the post is largely ceremonial, the president can veto legislation and the office has been a stronghold for secularists. Gul said in an interview with the Financial Times Friday that he would be his party's candidate if the vote went to the people, and said he believed he had the support of 70 percent of the Turkish public. Erdogan spent time in jail in 1999 for challenging Turkey's secular system, and many of his party's members, including Gul, are pious Muslims who made their careers in the country's Islamist political movement.