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Turkey's Ruling Party Scores Victory; Promises to Uphold Secular Principles


Turkey's ruling Justice and Development party, AKP, has won a resounding victory in general elections with a solid 47 percent, giving it about 340 of parliament's 550 seats. Still, the party is now reaching out to the opposition as it prepares for its next political test - the election of the country's next president. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from Istanbul.

It was a time to celebrate as AKP supporters watched the results come in from around the country. In the end, the party received a lion's share of the vote.

The AKP ran on a more-of-the-same platform - more reforms, more economic gains, more private investment and more talks toward future membership in the European Union.

It had obvious appeal to voters and they came out in droves to support the idea.

Speaking after the AKP's election victory, party leader, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan relished the win, but also reached out to opponents.

Mr. Erdogan called the election a victory for democracy in Turkey. He said the party would work hard to carry out the duty voters had given it. "We will raise the democratic, secular republic to a higher level," he promised.

The promise to uphold secular principles is a very important issue to the opposition, which raised fears about the AKP's Islamist roots and the fact that its leaders are openly devout Muslims whose wives wear the traditional Islamic headscarf.

Sunday's elections were held early because of a constitutional crisis over who would become Turkey's next president. Mr. Erdogan nominated his foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, for the post. But that angered secularists, who said Gul's Islamist past and the fact that his wife covers her hair made him unacceptable for a post meant to safeguard the constitution and the country's secular tradition. Millions took to the streets to protest the Gul nomination.

Ali Carkoglu, a political scientist at the Sabanci University, outside Istanbul, says choosing a president will be the first test of the new parliament.

"If the parliamentary elites fail to cooperate on that first issue, it's likely that we're going to have to have another election," said Carkoglu. "But, it's a very small likelihood because you have the weight of elections is so well rooted in Turkish political culture that I doubt the elites can ignore that weight and decide to start a new a game."

Parliament has 30 days to elect a new president or submit to new elections. That, says Carkoglu, is not something any of the parties will want.

Despite the AKP's solid victory, but it does not have the necessary two thirds majority in parliament to push through its presidential choice. It will need to cooperate and compromise.

The AKP will be joined in parliament by the main secular opposition group, the Republican Peoples' Party, which got 20 percent of the vote and the right-wing, Nationalist Action Party, with its 14 percent share. Also coming to parliament will be over two dozen independents, including from Turkey's ethnic Kurdish minority.

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