Turkish election: AKP returns to power with outright majority

Turkey’s strongman president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, tightened his grip on power decisively on Sunday as his ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) swept back to single-party government with a convincing win in national elections.

The high-stakes vote, Turkey’s second in five months, took place in a climate of mounting tension and violence following an inconclusive June poll in which the conservative, Islamic-leaning AKP failed to secure an outright majority for the first time since coming to power in 2002.

With almost 90% of the votes counted, the party was on 50.3%, according to state broadcaster TRT. That would give it about 325 seats in the 550-seat parliament, comfortably ahead of its three main rival parties and easily enough to form a government on its own.

The prime minister and AKP leader, Ahmet Davutoğlu tweeted simply: “Elhamdulillah”, or “Thanks be to God”.

Violence erupted in the mainly Kurdish south-eastern city of Diyarbakir as the results emerged, with Kurdish protesters setting fire to rubbish bins and throwing stones at police, who used water cannon to disperse the crowds.

Depending on whether the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic party (HDP) manages to hold on to the 10% of the national vote it needs for parliamentary representation, the AKP could even be on course to secure 330 seats, enough to call a referendum on changes to the country’s constitution.

Most polls had predicted a much tighter contest. Observers acknowledged that Erdoğan’s snap election gamble had paid off handsomely as the party he founded swept to a victory as resounding as it was unexpected, winning at least three million more votes than it did in June.

The elections came as the country suffers some of its worst bloodshed in decades. Hundreds of people have been killed in renewed fighting between the security forces and rebels in the mainly Kurdish south-east , and two huge suicide bombings – apparently carried out by an Islamic State cell – have taken more than 130 lives at pro-Kurdish gatherings. The war in neighbouring Syria has also worsened.

Turkey’s once booming economy has also slowed sharply, with the Turkish lira plummeting more than 25% to new lows in recent months.

Turkey’s western allies hope the poll of the country’s 54 million voters will deliver the stability necessary for the country, which hosts more than two million Syrian refugees, to play the key role expected of it in helping to resolve Europe’s burgeoning migration crisis and combating Isis.

Erdoğan, 61, and Davutoğlu urged voters to choose stability by handing the AKP a clear majority.

The president’s many critics, however, saw a coalition with the main secularist CHP opposition, the Republican People’s party (CHP) or the Nationalist Movement (MHP) as the best way of uniting a country deeply polarised along ethnic and sectarian lines, and of reining in what they see as his alarmingly authoritarian ambitions.

Backed by an outright majority, Erdoğan is now widely expected to push through constitutional changes to boost his powers, expanding the presidency into a powerful US-style executive role that opponents fear will lead to even fewer checks on his increasingly autocratic behaviour.

A series of high-profile pre-election raids against media groups considered hostile to the president and the jailing of several critical journalists were criticised both in and outside the country as an ugly sign of things to come.

With around 385,000 police and gendarmes mobilised nationwide, voting at about 175,000 polling stations around the country was mostly peaceful, though police used pepper spray to break up fighting between AKP and HDP supporters in north-eastern Kocaeli province.

Erdoğan called the election after the HDP cleared the 10% threshold needed for parliamentary representation as a party for the first time in June, denying the AKP its majority, and Davutoğlu subsequently failed to form a coalition with any of the three opposition parties.

The HDP, which Erdoğan has described as the political arm of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers party (PKK) that Turkey and most western countries consider a terrorist organisation, favours further peace talks to end the Kurdish conflict.

“I hope the outcome of today’s election will raise hopes for peace. This is what Turkey needs the most right now,” the HDP’s leader, Selahattin Demirtaş, said after he voted.