ANKARA (AFP) – Turks went to the polls on Sunday in parliamentary elections, with the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) seeking to win a third straight term in office.
Pollsters mainly expect the AKP, bolstered by economic stability in the country, to grab an easy victory with a minor loss of votes compared to its 47 percent showing in the 2007 elections.
Among a population of some 73 million, more than 50 million voters were eligible to cast their ballots Sunday in almost 200,000 polling stations nationwide, to renew the 550-seat parliament.
The last polling station closes at 1400 GMT and preliminary results are expected after 1800 GMT, although the authorities generally allow the media to announce estimated results earlier.
The AKP can point to a glowing economic record.
Turkey’s gross domestic product grew by a spectacular 8.9 percent in 2010, outpacing global recovery, and the party has presided over the doubling of per capita GDP since coming to power in 2002.
The election took place without much enthusiasm. But a few cheap shots hit the agenda lately, including a sex tape scandal that caused 10 members of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) to resign ahead of polls.
Secretly filmed images of four MHP members, showing them in extra-maritial relations were posted online causing an uproar in party lines.
The main challenge of Sunday’s ballot is the number of seats that the AKP, a liberal off-shoot of a banned Islamist movement will win, to ensure an overwhelming majority in the parliament, enabling it to carry out a constitutional overhaul.
However, Erdogan’s pledge for a more liberal constitution has met with doubt: he has refused to say what the reform would entail while favouring a shift to a presidential system — presumably with himself at the helm.
Once the driving force of EU-sought democracy reforms, the former Islamist has stoked suspicion over his future path with a growing intolerance of criticism, routine attacks on the media and rising religious rhetoric.
The AKP is seeking at least 330 seats in the 550-member house, which would allow it to amend the constitution without the support of other parties and put the text to a referendum.
A two-thirds majority of 367 seats would enable it to pass the amendments unilaterally. Pollsters predict that the AKP will win between 45 to 50 percent of the vote.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) under the leadership of Kemal Kilicdaroglu, is expected to take up to 30 percent of the vote, according to pollsters.
The MHP is to remain over the 10 percent election threshold and even garner as much as 12 percent of the vote.
Candidates backed by the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party but running as independents to circumvent the 10-percent barrier are expected to increase their seats to up to 30 from the current 20.
At 0500 GMT, people lined up in front of polling stations in Ankara’s Cankaya district, which mainly votes for the opposition.
Due to election law, alcohol sales are prohibited throughout the country until voting has ended.
Alongside its economic success, the AKP, ruling a pre-dominantly Muslim country, neighbouring a conflict-prone region, developed stronger ties with the Arab world in its external affairs and humbled the once omnipotent army inside.
But Turkey’s EU bid, generally absent in election campaign, is in limbo, partly because of the opposition of some EU countries to Turkey’s membership.