Ankara – Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos said on Saturday that the Republic of Cyprus was interested in a change of policy on behalf of Turkey on the Cyprus problem, noting that one should first await the results of the elections for a new Turkish President before reaching conclusions.
Speaking on return from an official visit to Slovenia, President Papadopoulos said ”we are interested in a change of Turkey’s policy regarding the Cyprus problem and nothing more.”
Asked if there were any prospects for such a shift in Ankara’s stance, President Papadopoulos said one should first wait to see who will be elected President of Turkey.
”We still do not know who was elected to be able to draw conclusions,” he pointed out.
Cypriot Minister of Foreign Affairs George Lillikas expressed hope on Saturday that the process in Turkey for the election of a new President would run smoothly and pointed out that when there is internal turmoil in Turkey, ”this is transferred abroad and usually affects Greece and Cyprus.”
Lillikas told CNA that ”we are awaiting the completion of the elections so that there is no excuse for not promoting the Cyprus problem.”
Replying to questions, Lillikas said ”the Cyprus problem in these elections has been transformed into an election issue and the whole nationalistic rhetoric has been built around the Cyprus problem.”
The European Union and the U.S. have urged the Turkish army to respect the country’s democracy after military chiefs voiced concerns over the current presidential election.
In a statement issued on Friday night, top soldiers warned the army could intervene if the election process threatened to undermine Turkey’s secular system of government, The Associated Press reported.
“It should not be forgotten that the Turkish armed forces is one of the sides in this debate and the absolute defender of secularism,” the military statement said.
“When necessary, they will display their attitudes and actions very clearly. No one should doubt that.”
In Brussels, EU enlargement chief Olli Rehn said it was watching events in Ankara with concern, Reuters reported.
“It is important that the military leaves the remit of democracy to the democratically elected government and this is a test case if the Turkish armed forces respect democratic secularism and the democratic arrangement of civil-military relations,” said Rehn.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried called for democracy to be respected: “We hope and expect that the Turks will work out these political issues in their own way, in a way that’s consistent with their secular democracy and constitutional provisions.”
Turkish human rights campaigners also condemned the statement by the army, which has ousted four governments in the past 50 years — most recently in 1997 when it overthrew an Islamist government in which Gul and Erdogan served.
“The statement has damaged our country’s democracy and our state of law,” said the Ankara-based Human Rights Association.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stood firm on Saturday after the army warned it would act to defend Turkeyʼs secular system amid fears that the countryʼs next president would favour Islam.
The European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join, urged the army — responsible for three past coups — not to interfere in the democratic process as tensions mounted over the prospect of a former Islamist becoming head of state.
The army spoke out hours after parliament, dominated by Erdoganʼs AKP party, held an inconclusive first-round vote boycotted by the opposition on Friday to elect a new president, with Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul the sole candidate.
Saying it was “concerned” over the election, the army added, “It should not be forgotten that the Turkish armed forces are a party to this debate and staunch defenders of secularism.
“The Turkish armed forces… will openly and clearly display their position and attitude when necessary. No one should doubt this.”
In his first, albeit oblique, reaction to the statement, Erdogan retorted that the nation would oppose actions that would hurt political stability.
“This nation has paid a heavy, painful price when the base of stability and confidence has been lost. But it no longer allows, nor will it allow, opportunists who are waiting and paving the way for a disaster,” he said.
Speaking to the Turkish Red Crescent, he never referred directly to the army or its communique.
Immediately afterwards, he convened a meeting with Gul and some cabinet ministers, the CNN-Turk news channel reported.
The AKPʼs nomination of Gul has sharpened the divide between the government and the secularists who fear that the strict separation of state and religion will be eroded if he is elected.
Many remain unconvinced by AKP arguments that it has disawoved its Islamist past and fear the government will have a free hand to implement an Islamist agenda if the party seizes the presidency as well.
The Turkish armed forces, which see themselves as guardians of the secular system, seized power in 1960, 1971 and 1980 and forced the resignation in 1997 of the countryʼs first Islamist prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan.
The main opposition Republican Peopleʼs Party, which rejects the idea of a former Islamist becoming president, late Friday petitioned the Constitutional Court to cancel the first round of voting, citing violation of a quorum rule.
If the court annuls the vote, general elections — currently scheduled for November 4 — Erdoganʼs critics say he is abusing his nearly two-thirds parliamentary majority, garnered with only one third of the vote in the 2002 elections — thanks to Turkeyʼs much-criticized electoral system — to put an Islamist in the hitherto secular presidency.
In Fridayʼs vote, Gul fell 10 votes short of the two-thirds majority of 367 required in the first round of balloting.
If the Constitutional Court does not cancel the vote, parliament will hold a second round on Wednesday, probably with a similar result, but Gul is almost sure to be elected in the third round on May 9, when an absolute majority of 276 will suffice.
Dozens of non-governmental organizations have called for a rally in Istanbul Sunday to show their support for the secular system, similar to one in Ankara two weeks ago that attracted up to 1.5 million people, acording to some estimates.
The AKP was born out of Erbakanʼs party, banned for anti-secular activities the year after it was ousted from power, but argues that it has since evolved and is committed to the secular system.
Secularists cite its unsuccessful attempts to criminalise adultery, restrict alcohol sales and lift a ban on Islamic headscarves in government offices and universities as evidence that the party has not changed.