- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2007

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s president yesterday vetoed a newly passed constitutional amendment that would have allowed the people — and not parliament — to elect the new president.

President Ahmet Necdet Sezer said the amendment was incompatible with Turkey’s democratic system and could lead to instability.

The veto is a setback to the Islamic-rooted government, which had hoped to hold both general and presidential elections at the same time — on July 22. However, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the measure will be passed by parliament a second time, probably next week.

Legislators passed the government-proposed amendment on May 11 as a way to overcome parliamentary deadlock, which was sparked by the secular opposition’s boycott of the presidential voting process. The boycott forced Mr. Erdogan’s candidate for president — Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul — to abandon his bid and forced the government to call early general elections.

In vetoing the amendment, Mr. Sezer argued that a president elected by popular vote could challenge parliament since both would represent the nation’s will, which could spark instability in the country. He also said the amendment could harm the neutrality of the president and criticized the fact that such an important change was being passed in haste. The veto by the staunchly secular president was widely expected.

Mr. Erdogan has said his government will have the amendment passed in parliament a second time. The president cannot block the amendment a second time, but could call a referendum on the issue.

Legislator Irfan Gunduz, a deputy leader of Mr. Erdogan’s party, said parliament could take up the amendment for a second time as early as Monday.

The government called elections four months earlier than scheduled to defuse the political tensions that exposed an ever-growing disagreement over the public role of Islam in this predominantly Muslim but secular country.

The military threatened to intervene to protect the secular system, and secular Turks held mass rallies in the cities of Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir over the past month and a half against the government they fear is taking steps to dilute the Western lifestyle of many Turks.

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