Abdullah Gül’s election as Turkey’s 11th president marks a watershed in the country’s history.
In July, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) – religiously conservative but economically liberal – won a landslide in parliamentary elections called after the military balked at seeing Gül become president. That victory, combined with Gül’s election, confirm the AKP’s emergence as a party of realignment, and that, despite an upsurge of xenophobic nationalism, Turks wanted to integrate with the European Union.
Last April, Gül’s candidacy brought a threat of a coup from the military, precipitating the recent elections. Thus, the electorate also made it clear that it no longer wanted the military involved in domestic politics, rejecting the generals’ warnings that the AKP would lead the country into the darkness of theocratic rule.
The fierce debate concerning the presidency underscored the symbolic significance of the post in Turkey’s domestic balance of power. The headscarf that Gül’s wife wears for religious reasons was seen as an assault on Turkey’s sacrosanct principle of secularism. Indeed, outgoing President Ahmet Necdet Sezer refused to invite the wives of AKP deputies who covered their hair to state dinners and Republic Day receptions.