ANKARA – Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to seek compromise with the opposition after his party won a thumping election victory but fell short of the majority needed to overhaul the constitution.
The Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) won 49.9 percent of the vote in Sunday's polls, according to unofficial results, its best electoral performance yet and the first time any party has won a third straight term in power while improving its support.
But the AKP, in power since 2002, fell just four seats short of the 330-seat majority it was seeking in the 550-member parliament to press ahead with a major constitutional overhaul without the support of other parties.
"The people ... have given us a message that the new constitution should be made through compromise, consultation and negotiation," Erdogan said in a victory speech from the balcony of the AKP headquarters late Sunday.
"We will not close our doors and (instead) go to the opposition," he said.
A new liberal constitution for EU-hopeful Turkey to replace its current one, the legacy of a 1980 military coup, was a pivotal AKP election pledge, even though Erdogan has refused to specify what the reform would entail.
The main opposition centre-left Republican People's Party came second with 25.9 percent of the vote and 135 parliamentary seats, followed by the Nationalist Action Party, which clinched 13 percent and 53 seats.
Along with the AKP, the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) was another big winner: its candidates, running as independents to get round a 10 percent national threshold for parties, increased the party's seats from 20 to 36.
BDP support could be crucial in drafting the new constitution, which the party says should recognize the Kurds as a distinct element of the nation and grant them autonomy.
"The bridge the AKP would have to build with the BDP... will lay the ground for the debate" about how the 26-year Kurdish conflict in southeast Turkey will be resolved, the Milliyet newspaper wrote.
The issue has loomed large for Erdogan: jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan has threatened that "all hell will break loose" after the polls unless sporadic contacts officials have had with him in prison are upgraded to serious negotiations.
The press Monday hailed Erdogan's victory amid lingering questions over the credibility of his conciliatory message.
"The Master of the Ballot Boxes," headlined the liberal Radikal daily, while the pro-government Sabah said: "Go, Master!"
Both dailies were referring to Erdogan's election rhetoric that a third mandate would make him a "master" after having spent the previous two terms as "an apprentice" and "a foreman."
Opponents remained wary over Erdogan's future path, pointing to his growing intolerance to criticism and authoritarian tendencies.
"If the prime minister wants to govern this country in peace, he should know and never forget that the other 50 percent exist," columnist Mehmet Yilmaz wrote in the mass-circulation Hurriyet.
"Will the prime minister swallow the existence of people who do not think like him?" he asked.
Erdogan's election campaign was marked by harsh attacks on critics, and his advocacy of a presidential system for Turkey -- presumably with himself at the helm -- has heightened fears that he is seeking an authoritarian grip on power.
With dozens of journalists in jail, AKP opponents are alarmed also at creeping restrictions on the Internet and alcohol sales, and an unprecedented outbreak of compromising wiretaps and videos targeting opposition figures, in which many see an AKP hand.
Erdogan sought to ease the concerns in his victory speech.
"No one should have doubts that (protecting) the lifestyle, faith and values of both those who voted and did not vote for us will be a matter of honor for me," he said.
Nine members of the new parliament will come from prison, where they are awaiting trial over coup plots and links to Kurdish rebels. Among them are a popular journalist, a prominent academic and six Kurdish activists.
The house will also have more women deputies, whose seats increased from 50 to 78. (AFP)