Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's party has won parliamentary elections. But results show that his AKP will fall short of the two-thirds majority needed to rewrite the constitution without other parties' cooperation.
Erdogan's AKP won't be able to rewrite the constitution alone
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) has won just under 50 percent of the votes in the AKP's largest electoral victory since it came to power in 2002.
"Today, for yet another time, democracy and the national will have prevailed," Erdogan said from the balcony of his party's headquarters in Ankara during a victory speech to supporters.
The AKP is projected to win 325 of the 550 seats in the Turkish parliament, with Erdogan headed for his third consecutive term as prime minister.
"The people gave us a message to build the new constitution through consensus and negotiation," Erdogan said. "We will discuss the new constitution with opposition parties."
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso offered their congratulations to Erdogan in a joint statement, and said the election results opened the way to "further [strengthen] Turkey's democratic institutions, as well as to the continued modernization of the country, in line with European values and standards."
The pair added that Europe remained "committed to enhancing our dialogue and cooperation to the benefit of our citizens and our region."
The secular Republican People's Party (CHP), the main opposition group, received 26 percent of the votes, a boost from its 21 percent showing in 2007 but lower than the party had anticipated.
"We wish all success to the AKP, but they must remember there's a strong main opposition party now," CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu told supporters.
Erdogan has his sights set on EU membership
The Nationalist Action Party (MHP) secured 13 percent of the ballot, surmounting the 10 percent hurdle required for parliamentary representation.
The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) won just under six percent of the vote. By fielding its candidates as independents, however, the BDP was able to circumvent the 10 percent hurdle and win around 35 seats in parliament, well above the 20 needed to form a parliamentary group.
The Kurds, who live in Turkey's southeast, have been historically marginalized with more radical groups such as the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) fighting a decades-long insurgency against the central government.
"Our people want the Kurdish issue to be solved through peaceful and democratic methods," said Serafettin Elci, a prospective Kurdish MP. "We will work for it and will struggle to meet the demands of Kurdish people with the new constitution."
"This is a huge success for us. We expect the PM to signal a strong hope for the solution of the Kurdish problem for Turkey's future."
Economic growth key for Erdogan
A Muslim democracy and candidate for EU accession, Turkey has become an economic powerhouse and significant global player since Erdogan's AKP swept to power in 2002.
Casting his vote at a primary school being used as a polling station on the Asian side of the Bosporus straits in Istanbul, Erdogan said the election was the time for the people to speak.
"I hope that the elections will contribute to strengthening of peace, rights and freedoms," he told the television cameras, as his wife and daughter stood nearby.
Erdogan's support has been built on his success in creating a booming economy and in ending decades of chaotic coalitions, military coups and failed international financial bailouts.
Kilicdaroglu accuses Erdogan of underming democracy
AKP members had hoped to win at least 330 seats in parliament, which would have allowed it to call a unilateral referendum on constitutional change, effectively shutting the political opposition out of the process.
It appears now that the AKP will have to find support from other parties to rewrite the constitution, replacing a charter drafted after a 1980 coup that has been criticized for limiting individual rights.
"These elections are not about who wins, but about whether the AKP will win a strong majority to rewrite the constitution," Sinan Ulgen, from the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, told the Reuters news agency.
Although Erdogan has not publicly said what constitutional reform would look like, speculation is rampant that he wants to change Turkey to a presidential system with himself at the helm.
"I have many dreams but I'm unable to realize them as fast as I'd like to. There are many obstacles," Erdogan said prior to the election in an interview on Kanal D television.
Opposition supporters claim the Erdogan administration obstructs human rights
CHP leader Kilicdaroglu has accused Erdogan of subverting democracy by monopolizing power through a "wiretapping government" that seeks to keep political rivals in check.
"Enough is enough. We are fed up with intimidation. I want a country where I can live without fear," Meryem, a teacher in her 40s, told the news agency AFP after voting for the CHP.
Erdogan's government also faces mounting criticism for jailing journalists, condoning police clampdowns on street protests and instituting creeping restrictions on the Internet and alcohol sales.
The AKP first came to power through a decisive electoral victory in 2002, which raised concern among Turkey's powerful and politically influential military that the Islam-influenced party would undermine the country's secular ideology.
Author: Gabriel Borrud, Spencer Kimball (Reuters, AFP, dpa)
Editor: Michael Lawton