Turkey’s Islamist-rooted government condemned an army threat to intervene in presidential elections, while the European Union and the United States urged a peaceful solution in the EU candidate country.
Secularists believe the ruling AK Party’s presidential candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, a former Islamist, would chip away at the secular state system. As president he would be commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
The secularist opposition has applied to the Constitutional Court to annul the poll and both sides say they are waiting for the verdict, but the government and its opponents will be trying to gauge the public’s mood over the coming days.
Secularists are due to hold a rally in Istanbul on Sunday, hoping to match a gathering in the capital Ankara two weeks ago that drew hundreds of thousands of people on to the streets in defence of secularism and against the government.
The military, which has ousted four governments in the past 50 years, issued a toughly worded statement on Friday expressing concern over the elections and said it was ready to act in defence of the secular system separating state and religion.
“Turkey’s problems will be solved in the framework of the law, there is no other way … The chief of the General Staff is answerable to the prime minister,” government spokesman Cemil Cicek told a news conference on Saturday.
Cicek’s comments marked an escalation in the stand-off pitting Turkey’s secular elite, including the army generals, against a government it accuses of trying to increase the role of Islam in the predominantly Muslim country’s politics.
Turkey’s financial markets, recently buoyant amid hopes of smooth presidential elections, are now widely expected to fall on Monday.
The opposition has demanded early national elections but Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government, which has presided over nearly five years of robust economic growth, is widely expected to win polls that in any case must be held by November.
In Turkey, parliament elects the president for a seven-year term.
The AK Party, which denies it has any Islamist agenda, has dug in its heels over Gul’s candidacy. “We are waiting for the Constitutional Court decision,” Education Minister Huseyin Celik told CNN Turk television.
The opposition asked the court on Friday to rule as invalid a first round of voting on grounds that fewer than two-thirds of deputies were in parliament at the time.
The court’s 11 judges are mostly appointees of the secularist current President Ahmet Necdet Sezer.
If they uphold the opposition appeal, Erdogan must call early national elections. Sezer would remain in office until a new parliament could choose his successor.
If the court backs the government, the presidential election process would continue.
The military, the institution most respected by Turks, views itself as the guardian of the secular regime established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, 84 years ago.
It ousted a government it considered too Islamist as recently as 1997, with public support and without tanks or guns.
“This time round, compared to the situation in 1997, the electorate is faced with an AK Party government that has clearly improved the welfare of the country and has strong support as a result,” said Simon Quijano-Evans, an economist at Unicredit.