In Turkish Vote, Ruling Party Wins By Wide Margin

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, July 23, 2007

ISTANBUL, July 23 -- Voters on Sunday overwhelmingly returned to power a political party that brought a mix of mild Islam and intense economic development to governing Turkey, rebuking the secular military whose challenge led to the early election.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party received an unmistakable mandate for a second five-year term. The party won 46.3 percent of the vote in unofficial results, with 99.9 percent of the votes counted early Monday.

"The national will at the ballot box has been realized freely and democratically, and Turkish democracy wins," Erdogan said in declaring victory to cheering supporters in the capital, Ankara. "We have passed this democratic test, and we will be an example to the world."

Erdogan's government, first elected in 2002 and by far the longest-serving Islamic-based government in modern Turkey's history, has offered the world a unique example of a religiously guided Islamic party governing within a stringently secular constitution. The Justice and Development Party has managed to bring a measure of prosperity while doing so, taming Turkey's wild inflation and pushing annual economic growth to more than 7 percent. Turkey's western and heartland cities are visibly more vibrant, crowded and thriving today than they were a decade ago.

But Erdogan alarmed Turkey's military and others in the country's largely urban and educated secularist bloc in April when he tried to push through parliament the presidential nomination of his foreign minister, Abdullah Gul. Gul's wife wears a Muslim head scarf.

Secularists saw that as a sign that the fundamentalism that has overtaken other Muslim countries was coming here. The military, which last overthrew a civilian government in 1997, hinted in a statement that it might step in again. That prompted Erdogan to call Sunday's parliamentary elections several months early.

Turnout Sunday was around 80 percent. Voters in well-off secular districts in Istanbul streamed into polling places throughout the day.

"In five years they're imposing more and more on secular people,'' Ethel Mizrahi, a secularist voter, said at a polling site in a school in Istanbul's Nisantasi district. "We're not feeling safe anymore."

Meanwhile, at districts loyal to the Justice and Development Party, voters flooded into polling places, with party officials shepherding the crowds at some sites.

Dya Alawa, 37, was among the party's backers waiting outside one busy site.

Economic gains meant her husband no longer had to worry about impromptu layoffs at his textile factory, Alawa said, while she could count on buying most staples at the same prices as five years ago.

"For me, my kitchen is what's important, and my issue is cooking oil, and that's why I'm voting AKP," she said, using the Justice and Development Party's Turkish initials.

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