By Ivan Watson and Yesim Comert, CNN
June 12, 2011 -- Updated 2007 GMT (0407 HKT)
Istanbul, Turkey (CNN) -- The party of Turkey's ruling prime minister sailed to an easy victory in parliamentary elections on Sunday with 99.1% of votes counted, paving the way for a third term in office.
For nearly a decade, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics while also defining his country's assertive new role as an economic and diplomatic power in the region.
Campaigning on his record of unprecedented economic stability and prosperity during nine years in power, Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) succeeded in slightly increasing his mandate. The AKP won just over 50% of the vote, an increase of nearly 4 percentage points from the party's performance in the 2007 parliamentary election.
"The obvious result is another landslide big victory for the incumbent, the AKP," said Omer Taspinar, a Turkish political analyst with the Brookings Institution in Washington.
"People voted overall for stability. It's the same rule in most democracies, 'It's the economy, stupid.' People vote on bread and butter issues. They vote based on their living standards. The fact that Turkey's economy is growing at 9%. The fact that interest rates are low. People can borrow, people can spend. Consumption is very high."
Prime Minister Erdogan may have added another electoral victory feather to his cap. But he fell short of capturing the two-thirds majority in parliament that would have allowed the AKP to unilaterally rewrite Turkey's constitution. Erdogan has made no secret of the fact that he intends to rewrite the constitution, a deeply flawed document drafted by a military junta that seized power in 1980.
The largest secular opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP) won 25.9% of the vote. That marked a 5 percentage-point boost over its performance in 2007, but also fell short of predictions by the CHP officials that the rebranding of the party under new leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu would lead to a big win at the polls.
Fifteen parties competed, as well as more than 200 independent candidates, for 550 seats in the parliament.
AKP ran against a splintered opposition of secularists, leftists, Kurdish nationalists and Turkish ultra-nationalists.
"The opposition is fractured," said Asli Aydintasbas, a columnist with Milliyet newspaper.
"You have about 50% of the population voting for the government and the other 50% of the population not really voting for the government, quite disliking the government, but they're not organized as well as they should be and they're not represented in parliament," she said.
Erdogan and the AKP first swept to power in 2002, after the party won 34% of the vote, bringing an end to years of weak and crisis-prone coalition governments.
The party won a much stronger mandate in 2007 parliamentary elections, capturing 47% of the vote.
In the run-up to Sunday's election, Erdogan unveiled ambitious plans titled "Turkey 2023," which include digging a canal through Istanbul from the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea, which would parallel the Bosphorus Strait.
Despite obvious flaws, Turkey's messy democracy and its booming economy are an inspiration for many in the turbulent Middle East.
During the height of the revolution in February in Cairo's Tahrir Square, many Egyptians pointed to Turkey as a possible model for future democratic development.
And more than 5,000 Syrians have fled across the border to Turkey in recent days to escape a brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
One of the big successes of the Erdogan era in Turkey has been the assertion of civilian control over the once-meddlesome military, which overthrew four elected governments in 50 years.
CNN's Joe Duran and Jeremiah Bailey-Hoover contributed to this report
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