Fears of a Coup in Turkey's Crisis

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Umit Bektas / Reuters

Turkey's Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, the ruling AK Party's Presidential candidate, acknowledges applause before a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara May 2, 2007.

The worst political crisis to hit Turkey in a decade is not over yet. Tuesday's ruling by the country's Constitutional Court that annulled the first round of voting for a new President in the Turkish Parliament effectively forced the democratically elected government into early elections. That raised hopes of an imminent resolution to the crisis, which was sparked by secular opposition to the nomination for the presidency of Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, a politician with an Islamist background. The Turkish lira, for example, rebounded on the news after two days of sharp losses. But that vote will not necessarily resolve the standoff between Turkey's Justice and Development Party, or AKP as it is known by its Turkish initials, and Turkey's "secular establishment," including the military. In fact, if the AKP is returned with a stronger majority, which is a possibility, some analysts are not ruling out the possibility of the military mounting a coup, of which there have been four in Turkey's modern history.

The court found that the AKP did not have a quorum in parliament when it attempted to elect Gul to the presidency last week. The judges did not comment on the fact that the secularist opposition party that lodged the petition had, in fact, engineered that shortfall by boycotting the first round. Nor did judges take note that on at least one previous occasion, in the 1980s, a President was elected without the same quorum the court deemed necessary in this instance. (At that time, no one challenged the result.) Still, the judgment has been accepted, and the AKP has called early elections in order to secure a new mandate. The new vote is expected to be held within two months. The party also said it would try to push through a constitutional amendment that would ensure that this kind of deadlock does not recur.

The election campaign will likely deepen the divisions over Turkey's political future that emerged following the Gul nomination. If, as some analysts fear, the campaign descends into fear-mongering about a looming Islamist threat, it could do lasting damage to an economy that has until now been performing extremely well. The Turkish army, which helped precipitate the crisis by issuing a widely condemned communique opposing the ruling party's choice for President, apparently hopes that Turkish voters will accept the generals' view that the pro-Islamic AKP poses a threat to Turkish society, and turn them out, or at least vote in a coalition that would force the AKP to share power. For its part, the ruling party expects to return with an enhanced majority and the full backing of a plurality of the Turkish people.

Both outcomes are possible, though analysts are now leaning toward an AKP win. That would leave the military, which has now openly declared its opposition , with the choice of backing down or sending tanks into the streets. "There will be no need for further intervention because democracy is working," retired General Riza Kucukoglu said in an interview. Each of those assertions is, unfortunately, open to question.