IMAGE: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Abdullah Gul, Nimet Cubukcu, Mehmet Aydin, Kemal Unakitan
Burhan Ozbilici, Stf  /  AP
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, front row at right, and other Turkish government officials confer Thursday during a vote in the parliament in Ankara. The parliament on Thursday approved a constitutional amendment to let the public —rather than legislators — elect the president.
updated 5/10/2007 3:37:52 PM ET 2007-05-10T19:37:52

Turkey’s parliament overwhelmingly approved a key constitutional amendment Thursday that would allow the people — rather than legislators — to elect the president.

The Islamic-rooted government pushed for the amendment after opposition legislators boycotted a process to elect a new president over fears that the candidate, chosen by the governing party, might increase the influence of religion in Turkish politics.

The political deadlock has forced the government to declare early general elections on July 22, and opposition parties began seeking alliances to diminish the chances that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party would have enough seats to rule alone again.

Legislators voted 376-1 in favor of the amendment, which also reduces the presidential term from seven years to five, allows the president to run for a second term, sets general elections every four years instead of five, and reduces the number of lawmakers needed for a quorum.

It was not clear however, if the government would be able to hold general and presidential elections on the same day.

President may veto
President Ahmet Necdet Sezer could decide to veto the measure or take it to a referendum. Sezer has already spoken against the measure, saying the time is not right for such a change because of political tensions.

Erdogan told reporters after the vote that the government would send the measure back to parliament in the event of a presidential veto. If approved a second time, Sezer would be forced to either endorse it or call for a referendum on the issue.

“With these changes, the people will overcome the deadlock,” Erdogan said.

Parliament on Wednesday formally declared an end to the presidential voting process after Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul announced he was dropping his bid for president.

The secular parties feared that if Gul became president, the Islamic-rooted party could challenge the country’s secular system. The government, however, firmly rejects the claim.

The conflict comes at a time of questions over whether European Union membership of the Muslim nation with more than 70 million people would conflict with the bloc’s values.

Action on Kurdish organizations
Earlier Thursday, parliament approved a measure that would make it harder for a pro-Kurdish party to organize politically by fielding its candidates as independents in general elections.

Parliament said the measure was designed to simplify the voting process, but it came after a legal Kurdish party announced a plan to circumvent a 10 percent threshold required for parties to win seats in Parliament by fielding them as independents who would then form a party once they took up their individual posts as lawmakers.

The measure also needs the president’s approval. Sezer, a close ally of the military whose office is viewed as the protector of national unity, is likely to approve it.

The move came despite the European Union’s call on Turkey to reduce the threshold and ensure wider representation in parliament.

Kurdish politicians elected to parliament would have a higher political profile to push for cultural, social and economic rights for the country’s Kurds, who are not recognized as an official minority.

Turkey has been fighting a separatist Kurdish guerrilla movement in a war that has killed tens of thousands since 1984.

Several predecessors of the Kurdish party have been shut down for alleged ties to guerrillas.

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