Voters in Turkey are casting their ballots in a parliamentary election that could lead to fundamental changes in how the country is governed.

Sunday's election is being held amid strong economic promises and debates on the Kurdish issue.

The polls are to open at 8am local time (0500GMT) and close at 5pm (1400GMT), with non-official results expected by the end of the day.

The political atmosphere is tense, with bombings targeting the country's Kurdish-oriented left-wing party and harsh rhetoric emanating from party leaders and the country's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The conservative Justice and Development (AK) party, the ruling party since 2002 and formerly led by Erdogan, is aiming to attain a two-thirds majority in the 550-seat parliament.

This will enable the party to change the constitution to replace Turkey's parliamentary system with a presidential system that provides the president with strong powers.

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By securing 330 seats, the party will be in a position to draft a constitution and try to have it approved through a referendum.

The majority of surveys suggest that a victory with such a large margin is unlikely for the AK party.

The three largest opposition parties in parliament have all declared that they are against the presidential system.

Opinion polls indicate that the AK party is ahead of its rivals.

However, the surveys are divided on whether it will secure the 276 seats required to enable it to form a single-party government or reach the 330 mark to initiate moves for a new constitution.

In a country where the office of the president is constitutionally neutral, Erdogan has been making political remarks in recent public appearances, often criticising the pro-Kurdish left-wing Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) and other opposition parties.

The HDP, which is contesting the elections on a liberal platform, is seeking to cross the 10 percent threshold and enter parliament. Its success will affect the distribution of seats and, consequently, the power of the ruling party.

Close to threshold

Public surveys place the HDP close to the threshold - on the verge of crossing it or falling short by a small margin.

Winning 10 percent of the total votes cast gives parties about 50 seats in parliament, while the ones that fail to cross the threshold get no seats.

Galip Dalay, a senior fellow with the Al Jazeera Center for Studies on Turkey and Kurdish affairs, said the election has been reduced to a referendum on whether Turkey should change its political system or not.

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"The whole battle falls around if Turkey should have a parliamentary system or a presidential one. Unfortunately, all other items on the agenda have taken a back seat to this dominant election issue," he told Al Jazeera from Istanbul.

The run-up to the elections has seen discussions on the Kurdish dispute in the context of ongoing peace talks with the outlawed armed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Since 2012, the Turkish intelligence has been negotiating with the PKK's imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, to reach a settlement to the decades-long armed conflict.

Erdogan and AK party officials repeatedly blamed the HDP for being "supported by terrorism" or "ran by the terrorist organisation", in an apparent reference to the PKK.
In addition to the AK party, which is the architect of the initiative, the peace process is supported by the HDP and the centre-left Republican People's Party. Only the Nationalist Action Party, Turkey's third largest party, opposes the talks.
The election campaign has been marred by several bomb attacks on HDP offices. On Friday, an attack on a rally in the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir killed two people. Protests followed the attack and minor clashes with security forces followed.

Economic promises
In the sphere of economy, three opposition parties have made big economic promises to the public, including substantial rises in the minimum wage.

These promises were dismissed as unrealistic by AK party officials and Erdogan, who criticised the opposition for starting "a tender for the minimum wage" that would "increase unemployment".

The AK party took over an economy reeling from high levels of inflation and unemployment, and is credited with restoring stability by pushing growth through trade and foreign investment.

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Average annual economic growth has been around five percent during the party's rule, with the figure for 2014 placed at 2.9 percent by Turkey's Original Statistics Agency.

In February, unemployment stood at 11.2, with a one percent increase over the same period last year, data from Turkey's official statistics agency show.

Dalay, the political analyst, told Al Jazeera that fears in some Western countries of Turkey becoming a dictatorship are groundless.

"Turkey is not voting whether to elect a dictatorship or not," he said.

"Previously, [some said] that it was the last election before sharia. Another election was called the last one before Turkey broke up. Turkey has not become a sharia state. It has not broken up. And it is not going to become a dictatorship."

Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_uras

Source: Al Jazeera