Turkey goes to the polls: elections will be held in Turkey this month; the angry demonstrations that took place in late April may have abated but the differences between those who want a secular state and those who support a more Islamic-rooted establishment remain. Jon Gorvett reports from Istanbul.

Author:Gorvett, Jon
Position:CURRENT AFFAIRS

IN 2007, THE days when a military coup meant a party of Young Turks storming the sultan's palace are long gone. Gone too are the days when tanks clattered through the streets and jet aircraft roared overhead to announce the arrival of the new order. Gone also are the days when those tanks only had to go on an exercise to bring down the government. These days, when a coup happens in Turkey, it is enough for it to take place via an announcement on the Internet.

At least, that is the feeling amongst many in this country of 70m, where recent developments saw a series of extraordinary events propel Turkey into its worst political crisis in a decade.

The immediate event sparking all this was the selection by parliament of a new president to replace the outgoing Ahmet Necdet Sezer. Under Turkey's constitution, written by the military after the coup in 1980, the president is elected by parliament and serves a single, seven-year term. Sezer had been voted into office by deputies back in 2000 as an anchor of stability at a time when the government consisted of a warring coalition. His legal background and straightforward loyalty to the country's secular establishment were well known.

Contrast that pedigree with the one held by any likely winner of this year's new vote for president. With an overwhelming majority of the seats in its hands, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan would be bound to prevail. This would lead to a president from a party that had no need of coalition partners to form a government. It would also lead to a president from a party that is descended from the pro-Islamist Welfare Party, unseated by the military's last intervention, the 'soft coup' of 1997.

The AKP in the presidency would mean party control of both executive and legislative branches, although the presidency in Turkey in fact has few executive powers, exercising partial veto on bills from parliament only.

Yet the presidency does have one other area of influence of great importance. The president appoints the senior judges. The judiciary, like the military, has long been a staunchly secular redoubt. If that changed, the AKP would have collected the set of all three branches of government.

The Ankara establishment thus feared for its future. During its five years in office too, the AKP had been moving its supporters gradually into positions within that other main bastion of the secular establishment, the civil service.

At the...

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