Tue, Jul 24, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Turkish media hail Erdogan poll victory

AGENCIES , ISTANBUL, TURKEY

Supporters of the Justice and Development Party celebrate their election victory outside of the party's headquarters in Istanbul, Turkey, late on Sunday. The party won parliamentary elections by a big margin on Sunday in a contest that had pitted the government against opponents warning of a threat to secular traditions.

PHOTO: AP

Turkish newspapers said yesterday that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's decisive election win was a public backlash against the military, which had threatened his government and sparked snap polls.

"The nation has the last word," the moderate Islamist Zaman said, referring to an army communique in April warning Erdogan's government that it would step in if necessary to protect Turkey's secular credentials -- a step which finally led to Sunday's elections.

Erdogan's Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a second term in power after sweeping 46.3 percent of the vote.

The vote was brought forward from November after an opposition boycott in parliament prevented the AKP from electing one of its own people as president in April.

"If it had not been for the [military] memorandum, if there had been no outside intervention in politics ... the AKP share of the vote would not have gone to nearly 47 percent," wrote Ismet Berkan, editor-in-chief of the liberal daily Radikal.

The mass-circulation Hurriyet said: "The people do not like governments that quarrel with the soldiers, but the people also do not like military intervention."

The Aksam daily described Erdogan's victory as "The Third People's Revolution", saying he had become the third highest vote earner in Turkey since multi-party democracy was introduced in 1946.

The AKP also became the first Turkish party in 50 years to increase its votes in a re-election, despite opposition efforts to portray the Islamist-rooted party as a Trojan horse set to turn Turkey into an Iranian-style theocracy.

Erdogan on Sunday vowed to press on with reforms to turn Turkey into a modern democracy on a par with its European neighbors.

It was a personal triumph for Erdogan, a controversial but extremely popular politician.

Two other, secularist, parties made it into parliament -- the nationalist Republican People's Party (CHP) with around 111 seats and the far-right National Movement Party (MHP) with 71.

The next government will quickly face new challenges ranging from economic reform to a possible military incursion to root out Turkish Kurd rebels based in north Iraq.

Erdogan must tread gingerly between supporters who hope his victory might mean an easing of religious restrictions in public life -- such as a ban on headscarves in public offices -- and army generals who see defending a secular system as their duty.

The AK Party must find a compromise candidate for president, and quickly have to decide whether to send the army into northern Iraq to crush Turkish Kurdish rebels based there.

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

Some 27 mainly Kurdish independents got into parliament, the first Kurds since the early 1990s.

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