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Turks wary of possible Islamist power play

Prime Minister Recep Erdogan's potential bid for president has sparked protests by secularists.

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"Will he or won't he?" That is the question that has gripped Turkey for the last several weeks.

In early May, Turkey's parliament will elect the country's new president – a ceremonial though powerful and highly symbolic position – and the leading candidate is the current prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Although the prime minister holds more power, the presidency is in many ways a more prestigious position. Seen by many Turks as the guardian of the country's secular system, the president can veto laws, appoint key officials, and is commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Mr. Erdogan has not yet confirmed that he will seek the presidency, but his party, the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), has a solid majority in parliament that would guarantee his successful election.

The prospect of the religious-minded AKP controlling both parliament and the presidency, however, has put Turkey's secular establishment, especially the military, on edge and has had led to an outcry from a large segment of the public, which fears that the delicate balance between religion and state in Turkey could be threatened.

Secularist protesters rally

This past weekend, an estimated 370,000 protesters gathered in Turkey's capital, Ankara, for a rally against the possibility of an Erdogan presidency. Waving Turkish flags and carrying pictures of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, modern Turkey's secularizing founder, the crowd chanted slogans such as "Turkey is secular and will stay secular" and "We don't want an imam in the presidential palace."

Mehmet Erhun, an Istanbul businessman, and his two uncles made the five-hour drive to Ankara for the rally, the first demonstration he has attended in 30 years.


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