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Turkey's AK Party Sweeps Back Into Power In Parliamentary Election

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The surprise in yesterday's parliamentary elections in Turkey wasn't that the ruling AK party got the most votes. It was the margin of victory far greater than pollsters had predicted. Turkey's president calls it a vote for stability. But NPR's Peter Kenyon reports that many Turks worry this vote could spell more trouble.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: In downtown Istanbul, residents weighed the impact of Sunday's sweeping victory for the party co-founded by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the AKP. This vote was a rerun of a June parliamentary election that cost the ruling party its majority. The difference this time, Turks say, was that people were scared by the violence tearing through Turkey in recent months - Kurdish militant attacks in the Southeast and suicide bombings blamed on the Islamic State that reached as far as the capital Ankara. Seventy-five-year-old Moharrem Kaikci says Turkey's opposition party should've tried harder to form a coalition with the AKP when they had the chance this summer because now the ruling party feels more empowered than ever.

MOHARREM KAIKCI: (Through interpreter) A lot of people, especially in the Southeast, were frightened by the violence and returned to voting for the ruling party. That's really what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in foreign language).

KENYON: For AKP supporters, it was a celebration tinged with relief. President Erdogan had gambled on snap elections, and it paid off. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the party faithful that the government can now get back in gear, and one of Erdogan's controversial ambitions - a new constitution to give more powers to the president - is back on the agenda.

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AHMET DAVUTOGLU: (Foreign language spoken).

KENYON: "We need effective and transparent government where the bureaucrats don't get in the way," said Davutoglu. He called on all parties to agree on a new constitution.

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DAVUTOGLU: (Foreign language spoken).

KENYON: Polls show many Turks have reservations about giving the president strong executive powers in part because of the way the government has already been cracking down on dissent and free speech in recent years. TV stations critical of the government remain dark. Some opposition newspapers have been seized. Others had their offices attacked by mobs that included AKP members. Western leaders counting on Turkey's help on a number of fronts - in Syria, fighting ISIS and stemming the flow of migrants toward Europe - are increasingly concerned by the drift toward authoritarianism.

When the results were announced in Diyarbakir in the Kurdish Southeast, police used tear gas and water cannon to scatter angry protesters.

The co-leader of the Pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party called for calm. Selahattin Demirtas said since suicide bombings and other violence forced them to cancel all major campaign rallies, they should be proud that they stayed above the 10 percent threshold and kept their place in Parliament.

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(CROSSTALK)

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SELAHATTIN DEMIRTAS: (Through interpreter) We couldn't campaign. We could only try to protect our people from massacres. If any other party had faced this kind of bloody brutality, they would have been swept from the political scene entirely.

KENYON: With Erdogan and the AKP firmly aligned in the Turkish nationalist camp, the prospects for reviving the peace process with the Kurdish minority now seem remote, all of which suggests that Turks may have voted against instability. But columnist Yavuz Baydar says the causes of that instability are still there - powder kegs waiting on the doorstep as the ruling party prepares to form the next government. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.