Even after foreign minister Abdullah Gul decided to withdraw the nomination for the presidential elections, the damage seems to have been done in Turkey. His decision was met with protests and resulted in acrimony.
Thousands of Turks had gathered in the Capital to protest against the presidential candidate. Backed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Gul was perceived as a direct threat to the coveted secularism in the country. The opposition, Republican People’s Party (CHP) had claimed that had Gul gained power, the threat to the secular polity of the country would have converted into reality. To prevent this threat and disturbance, CHP had even moved the country’s constitutional court to stay the second round of the election. Had the court upheld the claim, the Prime Minister might have been forced to announce a general election. Critics had even argued that as all presidents of Turkey were staunchly secular, Gul’s election as the first ‘Islamic’ president would have in all likelihood destroyed the core ideals of the country.
Tension in the country over the forthcoming elections has roots both in the fractured social spectrum as also in history. A predominantly Islamic country, Turkey has pride in the secularism of its founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The powerful military zealously protects secularism earning for itself the sobriquet of ‘the guardians of Atatürk’s ethos’. Sandwiched between the romance of Islamisation and the lucre of joining the economic bandwagon of European Union, Turkish leadership has been in a quandary. The refusal of EU membership has not made things easier for the ‘Sick man of Europe’. Against this muddle, Turkey has been hard pressed to prove its secular credentials to the world. A Gul presidency in all likelihood would have earned Turkey a bad name in the region, that has already earned the wrath of the world as the nursery of Islamic terrorism.