Landslide win for Islamic party in Turkey
ANKARA, Turkey -- A party with deep Islamic roots has won a landslide victory in Turkey's elections -- a win that would allow it to rule without a coalition and amend the constitution if it receives enough seats in parliament.
With 97 percent of the ballots counted, unofficial results show the Justice and Development Party (AKP), had 34 percent of the vote, paving the way to form a single party government.
Turkish stocks rose more than seven percent on Monday morning, while the lira hit record lows against the dollar before climbing all the way back close to Friday's levels.
Observers say the vote reflects popular disastisfaction with the country's deepening economic crisis and the inability of outgoing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit to turn things around.
Only one other party cleared the 10 percent vote threshold to enter parliament, giving AKP more than enough seats to govern alone.
The AKP declared victory early Monday morning, with its leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, moving quickly to assure the West that he does not have an Islamic agenda and is committed to the secular principles that govern Muslim Turkey. (Profile)
But it is not clear how the government will be formed as the AKP still faces charges from the highest court it broke election regulations when it chose Erdogan, who has been convicted of sedition and banned from standing for parliament.
Erdogan, who once served as Istanbul's mayor, spent four months in prison in 1999 for reading a poem that a court said incited religious hatred.
This means he cannot stand for prime minister and under Turkey's constitution President Ahmet Necdet Sezer alone designates who takes that role.
A constitutional change could alter the rules in Erdogan's favour -- but the AKP needs to win more than 350 seats in the 550-member body, if it is to get the necessary two-thirds majority to change the constitution.
Turkey's powerful army and liberals view the AKP with deep suspicion because of its roots in political Islam, observers say.
The party rejects such views, however, saying it considers itself pro-democratic.
Erdogan -- a charismatic figure with grassroots popularity -- has deliberately played down the religious credentials of his party. He says he has become more moderate.
"I'm not the same person I was 10 years ago," he told CNN.
He vowed on Sunday evening to respect the rights of all Turks, impose no changes in lifestyles and continue to push for Turkey's entry into the European Union.
The party remained pro-Western, he said, and if was the winner, would work with the EU and the IMF. (Full story)
Erdogan hinted an AKP government would support a U.S.-led operation in Iraq, if it had U.N. approval. (Full story)
"We are obliged by the United Nations decisions, " he said. "The important thing is the United Nations' decisions."
But he added: "We do not want war, blood, tears and dead in our region."
Turkey, a NATO member, hosts U.S. warplanes at its southern Incirlik air base, which was a staging point for attacks on Iraq during the Gulf War.
Voting in Turkey is mandatory, and there are 41 million eligible voters.
Turkey has shut down a series of Islamic parties since they began rising to power in the mid-1990s, sparking criticism from the European Union.
Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has conceded his party's defeat in the ballot.
His Democratic Left Party did so poorly in the voting that the 77-year-old veteran premier looks unlikely to retain his seat in parliament.
The AKP was founded last year from the ashes of a party banned for Islamist sedition.
Turkey is 99 percent Muslim but a tradition of secular government was established with the foundation of the Republic of Turkey by Kemal Ataturk in 1923.
CNN's Walter Rodgers said AKP leader Erdogan was "the most exciting and perhaps most frightening figure on Turkey's political stage."
The country's 41 million voters had been expected to wreak vengeance on the three Ecevit coalition parties for 18 months of economic hardship.
The old guards had failed to solve Turkey's problems, especially soaring unemployment, and were swept aside, Rodgers said.
The vote had been set for April 2004 but was moved ahead after Ecevit's coalition collapsed in a bitter row over his ill health as well as controversial reforms needed for Turkey's struggling EU membership bid.