Turkey’s AKP leads vote

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Supporters of the ruling AK Party wave national and party flags during an election rally in Ankara, Turkey, October 31, 2015. (Reuters)

ANKARA – Turkey’s ruling AK Party may be on track to win back its parliamentary majority and form a government alone, according to partial results from a general election on Sunday broadcast by state-run TRT television.

With almost half of votes counted, the AKP was on 53.2 percent of the vote. The main opposition CHP was on 20.7 percent, while the nationalist MHP and pro-Kurdish HDP were both on 11.0 percent, just above the 10 percent threshold needed to enter parliament, TRT said.

The results could still change significantly, with counting not yet completed in the country’s largest cities.

President Tayyip Erdogan’s longtime grip on power was put to a critical test on Sunday’s elections, likely to determine the trajectory of a polarized country hit by mounting internal bloodshed and economic worries.

The poll the second in five months, after the AK Party founded by Erdogan lost in June the single-party governing majority it had enjoyed since first taking power in 2002. voting ended at 1500 BST and initial results were expected by 1900 BST.

Since June, a ceasefire with Kurdish militants has collapsed, the war in neighboring Syria has worsened and Turkey – a NATO member state – has been buffeted by two Islamic State-linked suicide bomb attacks that killed more than 130 people.

Investors and Western allies hope the vote will help restore stability as well as confidence in the more than $800 billion (518 billion pound) Turkish economy, allowing Ankara to play a more effective role in stemming a flood of refugees from neighboring wars via Turkey into Europe and helping in the battle against ISIS militants.

This time, there were few of the flags, posters and campaign buses that thronged the streets in the build-up to June’s vote. But Erdogan framed this sombre re-run as a pivotal opportunity for Turkey to return to single-party AKP rule after months of political uncertainty.

“It is obvious in today’s election how beneficial stability is for our nation and today our citizens will make their choice based on this,” Erdogan told reporters after voting in his home district of Camlica on the Asian side of Istanbul.

Flanked by his wife in a gold-coloured headscarf, he voted under tight security with snipers watching from nearby rooftops.

Voters were sharply divided in their views on a return to single-party rule or the prospect of a coalition.

“The little welfare, better living conditions, bigger house and fancier appliances we have, we all owe it to AK Party and Erdogan,” said Nurcan Gunduz, 24, at the airport in Ankara.

“Look at the state of the country after the June 7 election results and we didn’t even have a coalition government. I can’t imagine how worse it would be if we did have it.”

But Yasar, a 62-year-old retired labourer now working as a shoeshine man outside a mosque in the conservative Istanbul district of Uskudar, said he switched his vote to the main opposition CHP in hopes of a coalition.

“I have given up on the AKP. The honest party is the CHP. The country needs to heal its wounds and a coalition is the best way.”

Some Western allies, foreign investors and Turks see an AKP coalition with the CHP as the best hope of easing sharp divisions in the EU-candidate nation, and say it could keep Erdogan’s authoritarian instincts in check.

The election was prompted by the AKP’s inability to find a junior coalition partner after the June outcome. Erdogan’s critics said it represented a gamble by the combative leader to win back enough support so the party can eventually change the constitution and give him greater presidential powers.

Many polls indicated that while support for the centre-right, Islamist-rooted AKP may have inched up, the result was unlikely to be dramatically different to June, when it took 40.9 percent of the vote.

However, a survey released on Thursday suggested there had been a late surge in backing for the AKP and that it could take as much as 47.2 percent, comfortably enough to secure more than half of the 550-seat parliament.

Whatever the outcome, deep splits in Turkey – between pious conservatives who champion Erdogan as a hero of the working class, and Western-facing secularists suspicious of his authoritarianism and Islamist ideals – is likely to remain.

“The political uncertainty, growing social divisions and insecurity which has characterised the period between the two elections seems set to continue,” Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Washington-based think-tank CSIS, said in a note on Friday.

If the AKP fails again to secure an absolute majority, it may be forced back to the negotiating table with either the main secularist CHP opposition or the nationalist MHP.

The pro-Kurdish HDP, which entered parliament as a party for the first time in June, scaled back its election campaign after its supporters were targeted in the Ankara suicide bomb attack that killed more than 100 people.

“What all Turkey wants and needs more than anything is peace and calm,” HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas said after voting in on Sunday. “I hope good election results will give solace to the suffering families of those who gave their lives for peace, freedom and democracy.”

Violence between security forces and Kurdish militants has beset the mainly Kurdish southeast since a ceasefire unraveled in July but the region was peaceful on Sunday.

Voters in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir turned out in droves, queuing up in the shadow of armored police vehicles to cast ballots against what many said was state intimidation.

AKP officials were hoping the turbulence of recent months will steer voters who remember the fragile coalition governments of the 1990s back to the AKP, and were betting that a recent crackdown on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) will claw back nationalist votes.

Source: Reuters and agencies

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