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    Middle East
     Jul 24, 2007
Turkish voters want more of the same

Early results show Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is leading by a large margin in Sunday's parliamentary elections. The elections are seen as crucial to Turkey's future political and social direction.

With the vote still not fully counted, unofficial results give the AKP 46.6%, up more than 12 points on 2002, but a more united opposition means the AKP will get 340 out of 550 seats, slightly fewer than it presently holds. The main opposition Republican

People's Party is running second with just over 16% and the Nationalist Action Party third with 14%.

The pro-reform, Islamist-rooted AKP's lead is expected to decrease as counting progresses, since most of the initial results came from the rural east where the party is stronger, compared to the more urban west. A survey by CNN-Turk showed the AKP projected to win almost 47%.

A total of 42.5 million eligible voters had a choice of 14 parties and 700 independent candidates. Participation is traditionally high, and media have predicted that more than 80% of voters could cast their ballots. Reports said many people postponed or cut short holidays to go home to vote.

Several voters in Ankara spoke to Radio Farda ahead of the vote. "I will give my vote to those parties who emphasize on improving life of workers, civil servants and retirees," said Arzu, a 23-year-old woman. "Those who realize the importance of education and the health system, and defend [founder of the Turkish Republic] Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's ideas and principles."

Reza Karaman, 40, said he had other priorities. "I will vote for a leader who fights against terrorist activities," he said.

Sunday's election was called early by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to defuse a political crisis over the Islamist-oriented ruling party's choice of presidential candidate. The county's powerful military and secular parties had blocked the nomination of Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, whose wife wears a head scarf.

They said that Turkey's secularism was in danger. However, the claim was dismissed by the AKP, which also denies it wants to turn Turkey into an Iranian-style theocracy.

The Milliyet newspaper on July 21 quoted Gul as saying that the military's warning had helped his party during the campaign because voters were angry at the military's effort to influence the political process.

Some analysts view this election as one of the most important in the past 25 years, because it is seen as a key to Turkey's direction.

Erdogan, Turkey's most popular politician, on July 21 urged voters to grant him a fresh five-year mandate to continue the AKP's record of strong economic growth, rising living standards and falling inflation. "We are in the final hours," Erdogan said. "God willing, after 30 hours, Turkey is going to be brighter with the AK party's bulb [the symbol of the AKP]."

Some independent, mostly pro-Kurdish candidates are also tipped to win seats in Parliament. The new Parliament will be immediately faced with several issues, including a presidential election and a continuing conflict with Kurdish separatist rebels, some based in neighboring Iraq.

Copyright (c) 2007, RFE/RL Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC 20036

Turkey's election has no losers (Jul 21, '07)

Troops stay in their barracks - for now (Jul 21, '07)

Enough rope to hang oneself (Jul 18, '07)

A silent revolution in Turkey (Jun 23, '07)

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( July 20-22, 2007)


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