Erdogan (right) and Gul in Ankara today (AFP)
April 24, 2007 -- Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced today in Ankara that his ruling party's candidate for president will be Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.
Erdogan and Gul are co-founders of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) and are very close. But Gul is seen as the party's more Western face.
An economist by training who studied in Britain, the 56-year-old Gul has been Turkey's foreign minister since 2003, and has overseen Ankara's negotiations with the European Union.
Challenging Secular State?
Today's announcement ends speculation that Erdogan would seek the post himself.
Widely considered Turkey's most popular and charismatic politician, Erdogan had come under intense pressure from the secular establishment, which includes the military, not to run for president because of his Islamist past.
A former mayor of Istanbul, Erdogan served a short jail sentence in 1999 for reading a poem in public deemed to be too Islamic.
Gul and Erdogan have much in common but also some important differences.
Gul shares many of Erdogan's views, and his wife, like Erdogan's, wears the head scarf.
But Gul comes across as a polished modernizer. And that means he attracts less opposition from Turkey's military, which sees its role as safeguarding the country's secularist legacy that was established by the founder of the modern Turkish state, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Gul, who is also a deputy prime minister, is now virtually certain to become president thanks to the majority of 353 seats that the AKP holds in the 550-member parliament, which elects the president for a single, seven-year term.
He is unlikely to get the post in the first two rounds of voting, when a two-thirds majority of 367 is required, but is likely to win election in the third or fourth round, when a simple majority of 276 suffices.
The first round is scheduled for April 27, the second for May 2, the third for May 9, and the fourth for May 15.
Outgoing President Ahmet Necdet Sezer's mandate expires on May 16.