<http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/03/world/europe/03turkey.html?> May 3, 2007 In Political Row, Turkey Advances National Ballot By SABRINA TAVERNISE
ISTANBUL, May 2 — Turkish lawmakers on Wednesday set national elections for July 22, four months earlier than planned, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party submitted a package of bills that would bring it advantages in the coming political battle.
Elections had been scheduled for Nov. 4, but on Tuesday, Turkey's highest court annulled Parliament's vote for president, effectively blocking Mr. Erdogan's candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, a close ally with a background in Islamic politics. The ruling created a standoff between Mr. Erdogan's Justice and Development Party and the secular establishment.
Speaking with characteristic emotion, Mr. Erdogan delivered what amounted to a counterattack against the secular establishment for blocking Mr. Gul. The court ruling, he said, was "a bullet for democracy," and the battle's real winner would emerge through national elections.
Turkey's military, which sees itself as the protector of Turkish secularism and has ousted four elected governments since 1960, is unlikely to intervene as long as early elections are held as planned.
The bills that Mr. Erdogan's party submitted included lowering the minimum age for candidates for Parliament to 25. This would be a boost for the party, known by its Turkish initials, A.K., because its constituency and supporters are overwhelmingly young.
Other proposals were to take the presidential election out of the hands of Parliament and place it in a national vote, a step to prevent the secular establishment from blocking a candidate again.
The bill calls for a national election in two rounds, and a president who would serve for five years instead of the current seven.
The main secular opposition party is strongly against such a measure, but some smaller ones are in favor, and Mr. Erdogan would need only a handful of additional votes to get it passed.
In a largely procedural move, Parliament also set a schedule for a continuation of the presidential vote. Mr. Erdogan's party knows there is virtually no chance that Mr. Gul could be confirmed, but the law requires that a constitutional process like the election of the president continue once it starts. -- Yoshie