(Eurasianet.org)–Turkey’s ruling conservative party won a strong mandate in local elections on Sunday that could strengthen its hand in taking the largely Muslim country into the European Union and in pushing for reunification of the divided island of Cyprus.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) retained control of key municipalities–including the capital–Ankara–and the country’s largest city–Istanbul–with gains in regions long dominated by left-wing groups.
"Turkey has voted once again for stability and progress," said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan after claiming victory.
Erdogan assured Turks that "this victory will not cause us to lose our heads. To the contrary–it will increase our sense of responsibility."
He has backed the latest UN plan to reunite Cyprus. He was expected to fly to Switzerland this week to join four-way reunification talks between Turkey–Greece and the Turkish and Greek Cypriots.
Western diplomats say Sunday’s result is likely to strengthen his position against hawks within Turkey’s powerful armed forces–who oppose the UN plan.
At the national level–Erdogan has already pushed through many social reforms aimed at opening membership talks with the EU. These include easing bans on the Kurdish language and stiffening penalties for torture.