Now we know

An unexpected yet unsurprising choice for the Turkish governing party’s presidential candidate
Abdullah Gül
Abdullah Gül
Abdullah Gül

An unexpected yet unsurprising choice for the Turkish governing party’s presidential candidate

Foreign minister Abdullah Gül was revealed as the unexpected, but not entirely surprising AK party presidential candidate just a few minutes ago. Mr Gül’s name was announced by prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to rapturous applause at a meeting of the party’s MPs.

Also confirmed is the election schedule: the first round of voting will be held this coming Friday 27th April, with the next three rounds taking place on May 2nd, May 9th and May 15th. The likelihood is that Mr Gül will be elected in the third round on May 9th, when he will need 276 votes, a simple majority, rather than the two-thirds majority of 367 required in the first two rounds.

It must be a sad loss for those who work at the Foreign Ministry – they are parting with one of the most competent foreign ministers in Turkey’s recent history. Speculation in Ankara will in time surely turn to who might become his successor, though for now even the relentless gossiper should be satisfied. It is also important to acknowledge what Mr Erdoğan has done: by rejecting the presidency for himself, he has avoided the Turgut Özal scenario. It was a shrewd move and should not go unnoticed.

However, there are some serious questions that need to be addressed very soon. Some columnists have said that this election has paralysed the business of government. This is true to a certain extent, but only natural. After all, this is the selection of a man who will see through not just the general elections this November, but also those that follow five years afterwards. A much more serious issue is the presidential election process itself. It is vital that this becomes the last time Turkey’s president is elected indirectly.

Turkey is functioning free democracy – the diversity of press coverage during the last few months is testament to that – but the country’s presidency is not. The system must be changed well before 2014 to ensure the country’s top man is elected directly by the Turkish people. The AKP certainly has the parliamentary majority to make such a change – is it too optimistic to hope it could happen before November?

A more detailed assessment of Abdullah Gül’s presidency will follow shortly. For now though, here’s something to think about: we all know that Mrs Abdullah Gül wears a headscarf, but fewer might remember that she took Turkey to the European Court of Human Rights in 2002 over the headscarf ban in universities. She withdrew her case after her husband became prime minister. Mr Gül said at the time that it was because the matter had become a political issue rather than a judicial one.

It seems the matter of headscarves is to become another public debate. That can only be a good thing.

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