Turkey starts to elect its new president today
The day has come. Turkey’s 542 members of parliament have been called in for 3pm today to vote for the man they want to become the country’s next president. They have a choice between two members of the ruling AK party. The first is the party’s official candidate, foreign minister Abdullah Gül. The second is Ersönmez Yarbay, an Ankara MP not endorsed by the party. In this first round, a candiddate needs 367 votes to win.
The election is a critical one, perhaps the closest Turkey has ever seen, because each and every vote counts. Deniz Baykal, leader of the main opposition CHP, had said his party would boycott the vote long before Mr Gül’s candidacy was even announced.
Mr Baykal has further threatened to take the election to the Constitutional Court, Turkey’s highest judicial body, if there are not 367 MPs present when voting takes place. AK leaders have dismissed the threat as a technicality, pointing to the article in the constitution that say only 184 MPs are needed to start a session of parliament.
But despite the strong show, AK leaders have been shaken by the threat, and Mr Gül has visited opposition leaders in an attempt to find support. As it stands, AK has 353 seats in parliament. Parliament speaker Bülent Arınç will be leading the session, and therefore cannot vote. AK therefore needs at least fifteen other MPs to be present in the chamber, regardless of how they vote, to scupper a CHP legal challenge.
Mehmet Ağar, leader of the True Path party (DYP), has just appeared on television saying his party’s four MPs will also not be taking part in the vote. Mr Ağar repeated his view that AK has a sufficient majority to get their candidate through in the third round, and that he did not believe the CHP’s challenge was legitimate.
Mr Ağar’s words have added weight because his party has agreed to operate in conjunction with Erkan Mumcu’s Motherland party for this vote. Mr Mumcu himself is due to give a press conference at 2.30pm – he is expected to give his twenty MPs a free vote.
AK have also failed to win support from the Youth Party, Social Democrat People’s Party or the People’s Ascent Party, all of which have a seat each.
Mr Gül has been meeting independent MPs in an attempt to add up the numbers. There are also reports of CHP MPs breaking away from party lines to attend the vote.
It’s tense. I’ll bring more soon.