Turkey's Islamic government set for election landslide

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Turkey's Islamic-rooted governing party looked set for an electoral landslide last night, winning almost half of the votes at polls described as the people's ultimatum against military involvement in politics.

Based on the results after 40 per cent of ballot papers had been counted, analysts predicted the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) would take 47 per cent of votes, 13 per cent more than it won at general elections in 2002. But its gains will not be reflected in seats, with experts expecting a drop in the number of AKP deputies from 362 in 2002 to around 330 today. There are 550 seats in parliament. At the root of the drop is a 10 per cent national threshold on parliamentary representation. Only AKP and the secularists of the Republican People's Party (CHP) polled more than that in 2002. They will be joined in the new parliament by roughly 90 right-wing nationalists and around 30 mainly Kurdish independents. The prospect of a single-party AKP government with less than the two-thirds of seats needed to make constitutional changes is ideal, as far as international investors are concerned.

Wowed by AKP's swingeing economic reforms, they have invested in Turkish stock and bond markets to the tune of $70bn (£35bn). The deepening tensions between the government and the secularist establishment this spring threatened to scare them away. The AKP's attempt to get the Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, elected to the presidential palace triggered massive protests, a veiled coup threat from the military, and a High Court block that triggered today's early elections.

Most analysts lay a large part of the blame for the tension on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's refusal to discuss his choice of candidate with opposition parties. But it remains to be seen if the government will interpret its reduced power in parliament as a sign it should take a less confrontational approach.

"Without the military intervention, AKP could not have won more than 40 per cent of the vote today," said a pro-AKP analyst, Nazli Ilicak. "I think Gul will take this huge victory as a sign that his presidential bid is still on track." Should he do so, his likelihood of victory is quite high. Unlike the secularist CHP, the newly elected right-wing nationalists appear relatively unconcerned by the possibility of a new president married to a woman who wears the headscarf.

Taha Akyol, a columnist with the daily Milliyet, agrees AKP owes the size of its victory to public anger at the anti-democratic antics of secularists in and out of parliament. But he thinks a second AKP attempt to elect Mr Gul would be a grave mistake. "AKP must realise it owes its victory to a number of things ­ economic stability, the sense that it had been victimised by the state," he told the private television channel CNN-Turk. " The electors haven't blamed it [AKP] for tensions this time round, but if tensions arise again, it is unlikely to get off so easily." The future of the secularist CHP, meanwhile, is unclear. After the huge secularist rallies this spring, almost all analysts expected it to increase its share of the vote. It has failed to do so, losing for the fifth consecutive time under its leader Deniz Baykal. That result will come as a real shock to Gulten Ozturk, a civil servant in charge of one of the ballot boxes at a high school in the chic and resolutely secularist Istanbul district of Nisantasi. "CHP will win this election," she said. "Just look how many people have turned out."

Around 85 per cent of the 300 people on her list had voted by 3pm. But it was clear that something was not right. Of the five voters who came into her polling booth in the final 15 minutes, two voted for independent left-leaning candidates.