Turks vote in parliamentary elections

More than 50 million eligible to vote in Turkey as ruling party seeks third straight term in office.

    Some 50 million Turks are eligible to vote in the general elections to shape the 550-seat parliament. [EPA]

    Polls have opened in Turkey where more than 50 million Turks are eligible to cast their ballots to elect a new 550-seat parliament.

    Voting started at 7am (0400 GMT) on Sunday in eastern Turkey and an hour later in the west.

    All polling stations are expected to close at 1400 GMT and preliminary results are expected after 1800 GMT.

    Voters were queuing outside polling stations in Ankara, the Turkish capital, as voting began, the AFP news agency reported.

    Casting his vote in Ankara, the capital Abdullah Gul, Turkey's president, saidit was time for the country to come together and vote.

    "Our nation will make its decision today," Gul told reporters. "Whatever has been said at election rallies will stay there. Tomorrow is the day to join forces."

    Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, whose Justice and Development Party (AKP) is seeking a third term, was among early voters in Istanbul, Turkey's main city, where he is standing as a deputy.

    "We have spoken, and now it is time for the people to speak," Erdogan said. "For us, this will be the most honourable decision and one that we will have to respect. As far as I know, the election process is continuing through the country without any problems."

    Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), also voted on Sunday morning in Ankara.

    "We have come to the end of a long marathon," Kilicdaroglu said. "Today is the time for a decision by the people. We will respect their decision. There is a good mood. There is a democracy feast."

    Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), is expected to vote in the southern province of Osmaniye.

    Candidates from 15 parties, as well as many independent candidates, are in the fray.

    Party leaders have been travelling the country for weeks, often addressing several rallies a day.

    Al Jazeera's Muhammad Vall, reporting from the Ankara polling station where Gul voted , said that hundreds of people had voted on Sunday morning.

    "We can see how much enthusiasm there is for voting, even among the elderly," our correspondent said.

    Vall said there was some polarisation between different factions within Turkish society, as was always the case in the country. 

    "But this is the first election perhaps in the history of Turkey where the main paradigm has shifted from ideology to practical matters, like economy, like reducing poverty, like the rights of minorities."

    Media restrictions

    Turkish Elections: Party list

    Fifteen parties will field candidates in Sunday's elections, according to Turkish electoral authorities. Independent candidates will also stand in many areas.

    Justice and Development Party (AKP)
     Democrat Party (DP)
    Republican People's Party (CHP)
     Labour Party (EMEP)
     Nation Party (MP)
     Liberal Democrat Party (LDP)
     Felicity Party (SP)
     Rights and Equality Party (HEPAR)
     People's Voice Party (HSP)
     Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)
     True Path Party (DYP)
     Turkish Communist Party (TKP)
     National Conservative Party (MMP)
     Grand Unity Party (BBP)
     Democratic Left Party (DSP)

    The country's electoral board, the YSK, has restricted media reporting until 9pm (1800 GMT) on Sunday.

    Other rules enforced by the YSK on voting day include a ban on alcohol from Sunday morning until Monday afternoon, according to the semi-official Anatolia News Agency.

    Voters are casting theor ballots in transparent plastic boxes, rather than traditional wooden boxes, for the first time - a measure introduced to prevent allegations of fraud.

    Parties need to win at least a 10 per cent share of the national vote to be elected to parliament.

    But this does not apply to independent candidates, such as those representing the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) in the country's southeast, where the population is predominantly Kurdish.

    Istanbul, Turkey's main city, will be represented by 85 deputies in the new parliament, while Ankara, the capital, gets 31 seats. Many of Turkey's less populated provinces will be represented by a single deputy.

    Seats are awarded on the basis of proportional representation, with each party gaining a number of seats in each district based on its share of the local vote.

    Almost 85 per cent of eligible voters participated in the last elections in 2007.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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