ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party has won a resounding third consecutive election victory, but the divisive leader will need to seek consensus to push ahead with a planned new constitution.
Erdogan, whose AK has transformed Muslim Turkey into one of the world's fastest-growing economies and ended a cycle of military coups, won nearly 50 percent of the vote in a parliamentary vote on Sunday.
The results, which are likely to boost financial markets on Monday, mean AK will be forced to compromise with other parties to press on with plans to replace the existing charter, written almost 30 years ago during a period of military rule.
"The new constitution requires consensus and dialogue with other parties and the society at large," Cengiz Aktar, a professor at Istanbul's Bahcesehir University, told Reuters.
"We will see if Erdogan is ready for these with his majority or will he go his own way and impose his own views on Turkey -- in which case we will have difficult times."
The vote marked AK's highest electoral score since it first came to power in 2002, but failed to win Erdogan enough seats to call a referendum on a planned new constitution.
Preliminary results based on 99.8 percent of the vote show AK winning 49.9 percent, or 325 seats, just below the 330 required for a plebiscite, and less than the 331 of the 550 seats it had in the last parliament.
Critics fear Erdogan, who has a reputation for not liking dissent, might use the victory to cement power, limit freedoms and persecute opponents. But in a victory speech before thousands of flag-waving supporters in the capital Ankara, he pledged "humility" and said he would work with rivals.
"People gave us a message to build the new constitution through consensus and negotiation. We will discuss the new constitution with opposition parties. This new constitution will meet peace and justice demands."
European Union candidate Turkey and Erdogan's AK often are cited as models for supporters of democracy living through the "Arab Spring" in parts of the Middle East and North Africa.
But opponents say Erdogan, whose party evolved from banned Islamist movements, is imposing a conservative social agenda.
Since crushing old establishment parties on a wave of support from a rising middle class of religious Turks, Erdogan has challenged the secularist military and the judiciary with reforms aimed at winning Turkey membership in the European Union.
He also has set the long-time NATO member and U.S. ally on a more assertive foreign policy course, forging closer ties with Middle East countries, including Iran.
The new leader of the secularist opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), which scored its best result in more than 30 years with 25.9 percent of the vote, warned Erdogan that he would be watching his movements closely.
"We wish all success to AKP, but they must remember there's a stronger main opposition party now," Kemal Kilicdaroglu said.
Some financial analysts had warned that too large an AK majority could polarise a country deeply divided over the role of religion and ethnic minorities.
A limited majority makes the government focus on macroeconomic imbalances, including an overheating economy.
"It paves the way for the opportunity on the part of the authorities to tighten policies," Benoit Anne, head of EM Strategy for Societe Generale, said.
"We would like to see more fiscal discipline, this can be achieved after elections. The ideal scenario would be to see even the central bank to do some tightening as well."
There has been speculation that Erdogan would seek to move Turkey toward a more presidential system of government, with an ultimate aim of becoming president himself.
Besides the economy, Erdogan's government also will need to tackle a separatist conflict in the country's mainly Kurdish southeast. A strong showing by the pro-Kurdish BDP in the Kurdish region played a role in denying the AK's advance.
Analysts said Erdogan will also need to focus on reviving Turkey's faltering EU bid and on unrest in neighbouring Syria, which has sent thousands of refugees spilling over the border as Syrians flee an increasingly bloody crackdown.
(Additional reporting by Simon Cameron-Moore and Ece Toksabay in Istanbul; Editing by Michael Roddy)