ANKARA, Turkey (CNN) -- Voters in Turkey hailed Recep Tayyip Erdogan's emphatic re-election victory as a triumph for democracy, as the re-installed prime minister pledged to heal the wounds of a bitterly divisive campaign by "embracing all of Turkey with no discrimination."
Erdogan was forced into calling the vote months ahead of schedule.
Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP), founded just six years ago, increased its overall share of the vote to 46.8 percent -- up from just 34.3 percent in 2002 -- after a vote seen by many as the most important in Turkey's modern history.
"Our nation confirmed that AKP represents the social center. This is the first time a party has managed to increase its support while in government in 52 years," Erdogan told celebrating supporters in Ankara as results were announced. Watch Erdogan claim victory »
Many Turks chose to return home at the height of the summer holiday season to register their votes, with bus stations, airports and roads busy over the weekend as people moved around the country.
Esma Uslu, voting in the southern province of Adana, told Zaman newspaper she considered it her "duty as a citizen" to sacrifice her holiday in order to vote, adding: "I hope the election results will be for the best for our country."
Erdogan was forced into calling the vote months ahead of schedule after falling out with Turkey's traditional political establishment over his government's supposed Islamist leanings which his opponents said threatened to undermine the country's secular founding principles.
That issue came to a head in April when the government's nomination of foreign minister Abdullah Gul to the country's presidency was blocked by a boycott of opposition lawmakers, annulled by the constitutional court, and sparked secularist demonstrations over the fact that Gul's wife wore a headscarf.
Turkish military chiefs also issued a statement suggesting they were ready to intervene in the event of the election of a president deemed inappropriate. But many AKP voters said on Sunday they had been moved to back the party in protest over the army's continuing involvement in politics.
"The army is still too strong in Turkey. People came out in force to support AKP because they are against the military," Mehmet Bicet, a university teacher in Ankara, told CNN.
"Governments are for people; rules can change, if the people want them to change. We don't want to be ruled by secularists. They don't care for the poor. The Kemalists (secularists) can try and take power but the people won't let them."
Others also praised AKP's democratic record and economic management during its first term of office.
"They have brought certainty to Turkey," said Ekrem Ozkan. "Welfare has improved, inflation has dropped, incomes have doubled. And they govern for all people, whether they support them or not. This is a good habit. In Turkey sometimes the military messes with the governments and that's not good. That has challenged the people to vote for AKP."
Suat Kiniklioglu, a newly elected AKP lawmaker for Cankiri province, said the main tasks facing AKP would be electing a new president, introducing constitutional changes, fighting PKK terrorism in Turkey's Kurdish southeast and re-energizing Turkey's bid for European Union membership.
With AKP still lacking the two-thirds parliamentary majority that would enable it to push through its own presidential candidate and plans for constitutional reform, he vowed the party would seek to build bridges towards forging a consensus with the other parties elected to parliament: "There will certainly be consultations. We will make the effort to consult with them."
Under Turkey's election system, AKP will actually lose a number of seats -- down from 363 to en estimated 341 -- in the next parliament due to the success of the Nationalist Party (MHP), which earned the right to enter parliament with around 72 seats by securing 14.3 percent of the vote.
The biggest losers were the main opposition Republican Party (CHP) which was set to be reduced to around 111 seats from 178 despite also increasing its share of the vote by a percentage point to 20.6 percent. In the southeast of the country several Kurdish candidates were elected after standing as independents.
Analysts predict new parliamentary divisions, the ongoing search for an acceptable presidential candidate and concerns over Turkish security posed by the PKK threat could make for a difficult second term for the government.
But on Sunday Erdogan said he was simply happy that his country had passed the sternest-ever test of its democratic system. "Our democracy emerged stronger," he said. "The winner of the elections is democracy, security and stability." E-mail to a friend
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