Middle East

Turkey party set to lose majority in blow for Erdogan

Polling station officials count the ballots, in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, June 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

Istanbul: Turkey's Islamic-rooted ruling party was Sunday set to lose its absolute majority in parliament after a sharp fall in support from voters, in a blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ambitions to expand his powers.

Turkey's Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) was on course to win Sunday's general election but with a share of the vote well down on the almost 50 percent it recorded in the 2011 polls.

The pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) will surpass the 10 percent barrier needed to send MPs to parliament, meaning the AKP will need to form a coalition for the first time since it first came to power in 2002, according to initial results, based on a 75 percent vote count.

The AKP secured 43 percent of the vote, followed by the Republican People's Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), with the HDP fourth on 11 percent, according to the results broadcast on television channels.

The CHP is set to reap 24 percent of the vote and the MHP 17 percent, the results indicated.

This will equate to 267 seats in the 550-seat parliament for the AKP, 124 for the CHP, 85 for the MHP and 74 for the HDP, the CNN-Turk and NTV channels said in a projection.

It would leave the AKP short of the majority and also wreck Erdogan's dream of agreeing a new constitution to switch Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system.

Such a change would have required a two-thirds majority in the parliament.

Erdogan -- premier from 2003-2014 before becoming president -- wanted to be enshrined as Turkey's most powerful figure and strengthen the office of the presidency which was largely ceremonial until his arrival.

Opponents, however, feared it could mark the start of one-man rule, with Erdogan likely to seek another presidential mandate to stay in power to 2024. 

If confirmed, the loss of the overall majority would mark the AKP's worst election performance since its swept the staunchly secular pro-military order from power in 2002 polls.

The result however will also be a disappointment for the CHP which has struggled to present itself as a credible opposition.

Analysts see the nationalist MHP as the most likely coalition partner for the AKP in the new parliament.

Casting his vote in Istanbul earlier, Erdogan acknowledged the sometimes vicious campaign had been a "challenging marathon".

"The signs of a strong democracy will bolster confidence in the future, if the nation's will is realised this evening," he said.

Erdogan's heavy involvement in the campaign in favour of the AKP had been controversial, given that as head of state he is required to keep an equal distance from all parties.

Tellingly, Erdogan had concentrated his fiercest campaign attacks for the charismatic HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas, belittling him as a "pretty boy" who is merely a front for Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) separatist militants.

"Hopefully we will wake up to a new and freer Turkey on June 8," Demirtas said as he cast his vote in Istanbul

The legislative election took place under the shadow of violence, after two people were killed and dozens more wounded in an attack on a rally of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir on Friday.

Over 400,000 members of the police and gendarmerie have been deployed across Turkey to ensure security, media reports said.

Casting his vote in his home region of Konya, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said one suspect had been arrested over the attack and was being checked for links to militant groups.

In Diyarbakir, several people wounded in the attack, some with their legs in plaster and heads in bandages, defied their injuries to vote, AFP correspondents said.

"I am not Kurdish but I voted for the HDP to have a fairer parliament and make sure the AKP obtains less seats," said Ilker Sorgun, 27, as he cast his vote in Ankara.

 

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