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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 May 2007, 18:36 GMT 19:36 UK
Turkish MPs back reform package
Voting in Turkish parliament, 10 May 07
The Islamist-rooted AKP has a majority in parliament
Turkey's parliament has approved a major constitutional amendment that allows the president to be elected by the people rather than MPs.

More than two-thirds of MPs backed the amendment and several other reforms, proposed by the governing AK Party.

The vote came after MPs had failed to elect the AKP's presidential candidate, Abdullah Gul. Turkish secularists suspect the AKP has an Islamist agenda.

The reform package might yet be vetoed by the staunchly secularist president.

The package got the support of 376 MPs in the 550-seat assembly. It includes a proposal to make the presidential term a renewable five years, instead of the current single seven-year term.

The BBC's Pam O'Toole says that President Ahmet Necdet Sezer can only veto the reforms once - but he could also take the issue to a referendum or to the constitutional court.

He may use his powers to stall the reforms beyond the general election set for 22 July.

The election was brought forward from November to try to resolve the deadlock over the presidency.

Alliances

The military had earlier warned that Turkey's secular traditions could be undermined if Mr Gul were elected to the presidency.

KEY DATES
2 May: Ruling party requests early elections
6 May: Re-run of parliamentary election for president
16 May: President Ahmet Necdet Sezer's term ends
22 July: Likely date for early general election (currently set for November)

The main secular opposition boycotted two attempts by parliament to elect Mr Gul and the constitutional court declared the presidential vote invalid because of the lack of a quorum.

Mr Gul eventually withdrew his presidential bid.

Opposition politicians are now forging new alliances, hoping to weaken AKP control of the next parliament and prevent it imposing its candidate for president once again.

The governing party believes the Turkish people would opt for its candidate if they were allowed to choose their own head of state.

"With these changes the people will overcome the deadlock," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after the vote on Thursday.

In the run-up to the July election his grassroots supporters could exploit a delay to the reforms, by arguing that secularists are now preventing the people from electing a president, Pam O'Toole says.




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