President Ahmet Necdet Sezer

Turkey's next president is a top judge who believes in the rigid enforcement of rules and laws, a point he dramatized last year when he walked out of a banquet for President Clinton after being bumped down on the protocol list.

Ahmet Necdet Sezer, 58, has boycotted state dinners since the October incident but will be expected to sit at the head of the table when he succeeds President Suleyman Demirel on May 16.

"He has a personality that isn't shy of making a point in line with his principles," wrote Sedat Ergin, a columnist for Hurriyet newspaper.

Sezer, chief justice of Turkey's highest court, was elected Friday to an office that, although largely ceremonial, he says is too powerful and infringes on democratic rights. Sezer particularly objects to the president's right to veto legislation.

In his only public appearance since being nominated two weeks ago, Sezer said that "the powers given to the president exceed the boundaries of parliamentary democracy."

The tall, slightly balding Sezer made headlines last year for speeches in which he called for a revision of Turkey's constitution, drawn up under the scrutiny of the generals during the 1980-1983 military rule.

Sezer says the constitution restricts basic rights and freedoms.

Such views have made him a hope for reforms in Turkey, which would help Turkey's bid for European Union membership. The EU insists that Turkey carry out sweeping reforms before it can be admitted.

During Clinton's visit, Sezer was angered when he was pushed down on the protocol list at the banquet table in favor of Foreign Minister Ismail Cem. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had requested to sit next to Cem.

Sezer is the first judge to be elected president in Turkey, where six out of the nine previous heads of state have been generals.

Born September 13, 1941, in the central city of Afyon, Sezer was the son of a school teacher and went to the same high school as his predecessor, Demirel. His hard work earned him a place at the country's top law school, Ankara University Law Faculty, where he graduated in 1962.

After serving as judge in several provinces, he became an appeals court judge in 1983 and five years later was picked by President Kenan Evren, the leader of the 1980 military coup, to be a judge in the Constitutional Court. He has headed the court since 1998.

His schoolteacher wife, Semra, retired early to help nurse Sezer back to health after heart surgery earlier this year.

"We've led a modest life," Semra Sezer told Sabah newspaper after his nomination. "I would like it to carry on that way."

They have three children.