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Millions await results of Turkey election in key test for ruling AKP party

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is facing a crucial test after Turkey's general election. Polls have closed and the count is underway. It is unclear if the ruling AKP will form a majority government.

Polls closed Sunday in Turkey's second general election this year, with citizens anxiously awaiting results which will determine if the ruling AKP will be able to form a single-party government.

With 80 percent of ballots counted, private broadcaster CNN-Turk reported significant gains by the ruling AKP with almost 52 percent of the vote.

Opinion polls had predicted the party would win about 40-43 percent, which would be short of the vote needed to ensure a parliamentary majority.

The secular opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) had about 23 percent of the vote. The pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party had less than 11 percent of the vote and nationalist MHP had about 11 percent, CNN-Turk reported.

But the results could still change significantly as ballots from many major cities were still being counted on Sunday evening. Voter turnout was high with a reported 87.2 percent of voters going to the polls.

Security tight around the country

Türkei Wahl

Turkish police outside a polling station in Diyarbakir, center of the country's predominately Kurdish southeast.

"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," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters after voting in his home district of Camlica on the Asian side of Istanbul.

The president appeared with his wife Emine bedecked in a gold-colored headscarf; police watched from nearby rooftops as security remained water-tight in towns and cities with about 385,000 police and gendarmes deployed nationwide.

Constitutionally a non-partisan president, Erdogan has made no secret that he prefers the AKP - the movement he co-founded more than a decade ago - to take power in order to change the constitution to grant him a strong executive authority to lead the nation.

Attention has focused on the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which last June overcame a 10 percent threshold to become the first pro-Kurdish movement to be elected as a single-bloc in the Turkish parliament.

But it faces accusations from Turkish nationalists and ruling party figures of being a front for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), whose armed insurrection for autonomy and language rights for Turkey's Kurdish minority has claimed more than 40,000 lives since 1984.

"I hope the outcome of today's election will raise hopes for peace. This is what Turkey needs the most right now. It's in our people's power to change our future, to have a stronger democracy," HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas after he voted.

Polarized Turkey

Watch video 01:31

Turkey returns to the polls

If anything, Turkey is more polarized than during the vote in June. Many are fearful of a return to all-out war with PKK rebels after fresh violence shattered a 2013 truce in July, just a month after the HDP's electoral success.

Moreover, the threat of jihadist violence has overshadowed the poll after a string of attacks blamed on the Islamic State group, including twin suicide bombings on an Ankara peace rally last month that killed 102 people -- the worst in Turkey's modern history.

Opposition parties canceled their political rallies in the wake of the carnage.

In addition, a string of high-profile raids against opposition media hostile to Erdogan and the AKP have further tarnished Turkey's reputation as a democratic example for the region.

Investors hope the vote will help restore stability as well as confidence in the economy. That would allow Turkey to play a more effective role in controlling the outflow of refugees from neighboring wars into Europe.

Whatever the outcome, deep polarization in Turkey - between religious conservatives who champion Erdogan as a working class hero and more western-orientated secularists suspicious of the AKP's Islamist leanings will certainly remain no matter which party is in power.

If the AKP fails again to secure a single-party majority, it may be forced back to the negotiating table with either the secularist CHP opposition or the conservative nationalist MHP.

jar/jm (AFP, dpa, AP)

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