Ruling party wins Turkey vote

Turkey's ruling AK Party has been returned to power with a resounding victory over its opponents in Sunday's general elections.

The result gives the pro-business, Islamist-based party a mandate for reform, but could set the stage for renewed tensions with the country's secular elite.

Also see: Dateline's story on the election.

VIDEO: Comprehensive win

It is something of a moral triumph for Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who called parliamentary polls early, after losing a battle with the establishment and the army, which did not want his ex-Islamist ally as head of state.

"We will continue to work with determination to achieve our European Union goal," Erdogan told thousands of ecstatic supporters at his party's headquarters."We will continue democratic reforms, economic development will continue."

With nearly all votes counted, the AK Party had won 47 per cent, almost half as much again as it polled in 2002, but a more united opposition means it may end up without many extra seats.

Kurdish candidates win

"Turkey's stability will continue," senior AK Party lawmaker Salih Kapusuz told Reuters, saying the party would now govern alone for a second five-year term in a country of 74 million that stretches from the EU east to Iran and Iraq.

Only two other, secularist parties crossed the 10 per cent threshold into parliament – the nationalist-minded Republican People's Party (CHP) on 20 per cent and the far-right National Movement Party (MHP) on 15 per cent.

A score of mainly Kurdish independents are also expected to win, the first Kurds in the 550-seat assembly since the early 1990s.

"We will make efforts to resolve the Kurdish problem through democracy and reconciliation," their leader Ahmet Turk said on CNN Turk television. "We want an end to violence and confrontation."

The parties had argued over economic reform, how to deal with Kurdish separatist violence, joining an unenthusiastic European Union and religion's place in a modern Turkey.

Voters seem to have dismissed opposition warnings that the AKP secretly sought an Iranian-style theocracy, despite mass rallies this year in defence of the rigid state-religion divide in Turkey, one of the Muslim world's few democracies.

Stalled EU talks

"The controversy which we witnessed about secularism versus Islam has not materialised," Sami Kohen, a columnist for liberal daily Milliyet, told Reuters.

"The message given by the electorate is that we are happy with economic progress and European (Union) policy."

Prime Minister Erdogan has presided over an economic boom, and in a sign of market cheer at the outcome – one of the strongest mandates in recent Turkish history – the lira gained almost two per cent on the dollar in early Asian trade.

Economists said Turkey's most popular politician, 53, could now continue free-market policies and kick-start stalled EU membership talks, despite growing disillusionment in Turkey towards joining the bloc.

The army views itself as the ultimate guarantor of Turkey's secular state and has ousted four cabinets in 50 years, most recently an Islamist-minded predecessor of the AK Party in 1997.

"I don't think (the army) is happy but they're not going to roll the tanks out. They will explore means of making themselves felt, bearing in mind it's a government with a strong mandate," said Semih Idiz, a leading Turkish columnist.

The next government will quickly face new challenges.

It must find a compromise candidate for president – and tread carefully to keep the army at bay, speed up EU-inspired reforms or risk an economic backlash, and decide whether to send the army into northern Iraq to crush Kurdish rebels based there.

Turkish security forces have been battling PKK Kurdish rebels since 1984 in a conflict that has cost more than 30,000 lives. Violent clashes have increased over the past year.