Turkish Leader Vetoes Election Amendment

The Associated Press
Saturday, May 26, 2007; 12:07 AM

ANKARA, Turkey -- Turkey's president on Friday 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 on July 22.

However, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has 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 sparked by the secular opposition's boycott of the presidential voting process.

The boycott forced Erdogan's candidate for president _ Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul _ to abandon his bid and forced the government to call early general elections.

The veto by the staunchly secular president was widely expected. 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.

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.

The government called elections four months earlier than scheduled to defuse the political tensions that exposed an ever growing divide 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.

The government has its roots in Turkey's Islamic movement and Erdogan himself was jailed in 1999 for reading a poem the courts deemed was a challenge to the secular system. Erdogan denies he has an Islamic agenda and has carried out widespread pro-Western reforms to advance Turkey's European Union membership bid, which led the way to Turkey starting accession negotiations in 2005.

© 2007 The Associated Press