Erdogan’s AKP reclaims majority in surprise surge

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Turkey’s Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) reclaimed its majority in parliamentary elections Sunday, according to state broadcaster TRT, with 96 per cent of the votes counted.

The results, which still must be confirmed, show the party founded by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has about 315 of 550 seats, garnering about 49 per cent of ballots cast.

The surprise result for the AKP, which far exceeded pollsters’ surveys, is being seen as a huge win for Erdogan. The president is seeking to consolidate his power, but had been on shaky ground in recent months.

Opposition hopes that the president would be sidelined were dashed by the results.

The far-right Turkish nationalists and the Kurdish party were viewed as the losers of the evening, with support falling drastically compared to the last election in June, which resulted in a hung parliament.

After short-lived coalition talks failed, Erdogan called snap elections and sent the country back to the polls.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who was the public face for much of the AKP’s campaign, tweeted “Praise be to God” after the results came in, using the Arabic term “alhamdulillah.”

Greeted by a cheering crowd in his hometown, Konya, he said he was optimistic about the upcoming four-year term.

“I would like to express gratitude to God,” he told the crowd. “Today is the day of triumph, but today is also a day of modesty.”

The June elections saw the AKP fail to secure a single-party government for the first time since 2002.

However, it remained unclear if the result would be strong enough to allow Erdogan to push ahead and formally change the country’s governing system to an executive-style presidency.

Attention now turns to the pro-Kurdish HDP party, which needs to gain 10 per cent of the vote if it wants to make it into the legislature. It managed 13 per cent in initial elections this year.

Early returns showed it running dangerously close to the 10-per-cent threshold, sparking anger in the Kurdish stronghold of Diyarbakir.

Police and Kurdish demonstrators fought in the south-eastern city as Kurdish voters railed against the returns. Police used tear gas while demonstrators threw stones. The fighting broke out in front of HDP headquarters.

Voter turnout was at 86.4 per cent, according to TRT. There were no major problems with the voting, according to initial reports.

The AKP had pledged stability for the country if it can get single-party rule, but many opponents worry Erdogan, the most dominant figure in the country’s politics for over a decade, will be emboldened, amid accusations of growing authoritarianism.

Erdogan has called for the presidency to be empowered and for the country to switch to an executive-style system, though the exact nature of the change is unclear. Opposition parties reject this outright, fearing a weakening of parliament.

Public opinion surveys in the lead up the election had indicated the AKP will improve on its June result of 258 seats, but said it was unclear if the party will secure the 276 legislators needed to control more than half of parliament.

If the party can get 330 seats it can call a referendum on the constitution. In the June election, Erdogan was hoping for such a result in order to call voters to decide in favour of a change to the constitution to empower the presidency.

Security has worsened since the last election. The country has seen suicide attacks by the Islamic State group, including a twin blast in the capital Ankara in October that left 100 dead.

Meanwhile, the conflict with the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) also restarted, after a two-year ceasefire collapsed, leaving hundreds dead, mostly in the largely Kurdish south-east.

Campaigning has focused on economic concerns, including a sliding currency, and employment, with the AKP in particular highlighting major development projects it launched during its 13 years in power.

The main opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP), a centre-left group was showing similar results to last time.

However, the early results were showing a collapse for the far-right National Movement Party (MHP), which was hovering at just about 11 per cent of the vote, a sharp decline from the 16 per cent it garnered in June.

The MHP had rejected entering into a coalition with AKP after the last vote and was nicknamed as the party of “no” by some voters and appeared to have been punished.

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