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Presidential Favorite Falls Short of Victory in Turkey

He is expected to win in a third round Aug. 28, when only a majority of votes is necessary to declare a new president.

Gul’s nomination has divided the country between supporters of his Muslim-rooted AK Party, and those who fear the party’s dominance of the government will lead to a weakening of the country’s strong secular traditions.

Secularists point to Gul’s history in the Islamic political movement, and the fact that his wife wears a Muslim headscarf, as warnings of the direction Gul will lead the country.

Tying to assuage those fears, Gul said before the vote, “Nobody should doubt that I will protect the principles of secularism laid down in our nation’s constitution,” reported Bloomberg News.

The minister’s first bid for the presidency was blocked in April and the military warned him not to run. The military is known to intervene in the government to enforce secular traditions and has ousted the government four times since 1960, most recently in 1997.

A court ruled Gul’s election was not valid because two thirds of the parliament was not present, in part because of a boycott by the opposition party. As a result, a parliamentary election was moved from November to July.

The election strengthened the AK Party’s power in the parliament to 47 percent. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan then re-nominated Gul, despite continuing resistance by the country’s secular elite.

If Gul wins next week, the AK Party will hold the prime ministership, the presidency and nearly half the seats in the parliament. As president, Gul would have the ability to pass or veto laws and would likely speed the process for the parliament.

Current President Ahmet Necdet Sezer frequently vetoed the government’s bills, including one that would outlaw adultery.

The army has indicated it will not get involved in the upcoming vote, according to Reuters.