ANKARA, Turkey - Turkey's parliament voted yesterday in favor of holding presidential elections by popular vote and staging general elections every four years - the first step toward a constitutional amendment that the pro-Islamic government hopes will resolve a widening rift over religion.

On Sunday, pro-secular lawmakers had boycotted a parliamentary vote - for the second time in just over a week - on the ruling party's choice for president, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. He then dropped his bid for the post, saying parliament was deadlocked and the vote must go to the people.

At issue is the opposition's fear that Gul, as a member of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's pro-Islamic party, would allow religion to have an increasing influence on politics in this Muslim but secular country.

Parliament now must approve the popular-vote proposal by a two-thirds majority in a second round of voting. Legislators from Erdogan's party have said that if the amendment is passed on time, Turkey could hold general and presidential elections the same day, July 22.