Turkey looked set to return to single-party rule after the Islamist-rooted AK Party swept to victory in a general election on Sunday, a major boost for embattled President Tayyip Erdogan but an outcome likely to sharpen deep social divisions.
Prime Minister and AKP leader Ahmet Davutoglu tweeted simply: “Elhamdulillah” (Thanks be to god)
Security forces fired tear gas at stone-throwing protesters in the mainly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir as results filtered in, with support for the pro-Kurdish opposition falling perilously near the 10% threshold to enter parliament.
In June, the AKP lost the overall majority it had enjoyed since 2002. Erdogan had presented Sunday’s polls as a chance to restore stability at a time of tension over Kurdish insurrection and after two bombings, attributed to Islamic State, while critics fear a drift to authoritarianism under the president.
With 95% of votes counted, the AKP was on 49.5%, according to state-run broadcaster TRT, higher than many party officials had expected. The main opposition CHP was at 25.2% and a senior official said any hopes of a coalition now looked all but impossible.
Senior AKP officials told Reuters they expected to be able to form a single-party government again, with one of them forecasting a final share of around 45-46% of the vote.
“This is a success exceeding our expectations,” one of the officials said, acknowledging the scale of the victory was a surprise.
Since June’s poll, a ceasefire with Kurdish militants has collapsed, the war in neighbouring 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 hoped the vote would help restore stability and confidence in an $800 billion economy, allowing Ankara to play a more effective role in stemming a flood of refugees from neighbouring wars via Turkey into Europe and helping in the battle against Islamic State militants.
But in strengthening Erdogan, whose crackdowns on media freedoms and tightening grip on the judiciary have alarmed European leaders, the outcome is likely to mean relations with the West will remain strained.
Erdogan and the AKP have been a fierce critics, for example, of U.S. support for Kurdish militia fighters battling Islamic State (IS) in neighbouring Syria.
“This (result) makes more difficult a strategy of using the Kurds against IS because AKP appeals to anti-Kurd sentiments,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and sometime policy advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama.
TRT’s partial results said the nationalist MHP opposition stood at 12%.
The HDP, which scaled back its election campaign after its supporters were targeted in the Ankara suicide bomb attack that killed more than 100 people on Oct. 10, was on 10.3%.
“Simply a disaster”
This time, there were few of the flags, posters and campaign buses that thronged the streets in the build-up to June’s vote.
“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.
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.
It is a gamble that appears to have paid off.
“Turkey lost considerable ground in economy, politics and terror during this period, and gains were lost. Voters appeared to want to bring back stability once again,” a third AKP official said.
Some Western allies, foreign investors and Turks had seen an AKP coalition with the CHP as the best hope of easing sharp divisions in the EU-candidate nation, hoping it might keep Erdogan’s authoritarian instincts in check.
A senior official from the CHP, which had been preparing itself for potential coalition talks, said the result was “simply a disaster”.
The results could aggravate 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.
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’ve 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.”