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Turkish Parliament Refuses to Elect Prime Minister’s Personal Endorsee

By Amberin Zaman

Special to the Los Angeles Times -- ANKARA, Turkey

The Turkish parliament failed to elect a new president Thursday as disgruntled lawmakers defied party leaders who had endorsed the handpicked candidate of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit.

Ahmet Necdet Sezer, 59, roundly beat 10 other hopefuls, garnering nearly four times as many votes as his closest rival, Nevzat Yalcintas of the Islamic opposition party Virtue. But Sezer, the reformist president of the country’s top court, fell short of the two-thirds majority necessary to clinch the post in the first round of balloting.

The rebuke in parliament came as a surprise to Ecevit, who had appeared to have recovered some of his lost prestige when leaders of Virtue and the conservative True Path Party announced earlier in the week that they were endorsing Sezer.

Ignoring their leaders’ calls, however, a substantial number of lawmakers voted for candidates from their own parties instead. Many said they had done so, as one deputy put it, “to teach those bossy leaders a lesson.” There has been widespread resentment over the coalition government’s decision to back an outsider instead of coming up with a presidential candidate from within the legislature.

A second vote will be held Monday. If no winner emerges, voting could go to a third and possibly even fourth round. But many commentators say Sezer is set to win decisively in the next round. “Without question,” said Mukkader Basegmez, a Virtue lawmaker, “Sezer is our next president.”