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Turkish AKP regains power in a landslide election victory

Turkey’s strongman president Recep Tayyip Erdogan staged a stunning comeback Sunday as his ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) swept back into power with a convincing win in national elections. With almost all ballots counted, the AKP clinched victory after securing more than 49 percent of the votes. The party’s votes are higher than the other three parties represented in Parliament combined. That would give the party about 325 seats in the 550-seat parliament, easily enough to form a single-party government on its own. President Erdogan said voters had “shown that they prefer action and development to controversy”. Early on Monday, he called on the world to respect Turkey’s national will.

Following the June 7 elections in which AKP garnered 40.8 percent of the votes and failed to receive a parliamentary majority it had held for 13 years, the parties failed to come to an agreement to form a collation, leading Turkey to an early election on Nov. 1. The victory gives the president an upper hand in seeking concessions from Western allies who have asked Mr. Erdogan to play a bigger role in fighting Islamic State militants and choking off the flow of Middle Eastern refugees pouring into Europe. Prime minister and AKP chairman, Ahmet Davutoğlu, hailed the result as “victory for democracy”.

“This victory is not ours, but that of our nation and our citizens,” Davutoğlu said in an address hours after the results put the AKP ahead of other parties.

While the party fell short of the 330 seats needed to enact the sweeping constitutional changes Mr. Erdogan had once sought, the decisive majority solidifies his position in Ankara as the country’s most powerful leader. Mr. Erdogan will be able to exercise de facto executive authority through a pliant party over key policy areas including foreign affairs, security and the economy. The party’s opponents had said the vote was a chance to curb what it sees as the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of Mr. Erdogan.

The elections came amid the worst violence the country has faced in at least a decade, with the government involved in two military operations, one against the Kurdish guerrilla group PKK in Turkey and Northern Iraq, and another against the Islamic State militants in Syria. Since election in June, a ceasefire between the Turkish army and militants from the PKK has collapsed after a suicide bombing in July by suspected Islamic State militants. Turkey then suffered the deadliest attack in its modern history when two suspected Islamic State suicide bombers killed more than 100 people at a peace rally in Turkey’s capital, attended by mainly left-wing demonstrators, including many HDP supporters.

The Kurdish party whose breakthrough performance in June helped strip the AKP of its majority saw its vote decline on Sunday. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) saw its number of seats drop by half, while the biggest opposition group, the centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP), registered a small increase without breaking out beyond its core supporters. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) managed to win 10.7 percent of the vote – enough to give it 59 parliamentary seats, 21 less than it claimed in June’s election.

Sunday’s vote ended a five-month interlude in Mr. Erdogan’s 13-year rule, leaving the AK Party back in power of Turkey’s parliament and the president firmly in charge on issues from war in Syria and peace with the Kurds to the restructuring of a slowing economy. Erdogan wasn’t even up for re-election yet managed to remain the central figure in Turkey’s second campaign this year after the June ballot.  The message resonated not only with nationalists who backed Mr. Erdogan’s decision to renew the country’s fight with the PKK, but also with Kurdish residents rattled by renewed violence that had consumed their communities.

Now that Mr. Erdogan has regained control, he may decide to resume peace talks. Peace talks between the two parties had begun in 2013 but following the destabilization of neighboring Iraq and Syria and the elections that ended without a majority for any party the discussions dissolved completely. The PKK and a new generation of Kurdish militants will also have to decide whether to keep pressing their fight with Turkey, or to sit down and talk.