Turkey faces the prospect of weeks of political turmoil after the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority in weekend polls, dealing a massive blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ambitions to acquire sweeping new powers.
Instead of the two-thirds majority he wanted to change the constitution and create a presidential republic, the AKP, while remaining the biggest party, failed to reach that mark. The outcome augurs weeks of unpredictability as parties vie to form a coalition and even the possibility of a second general election within months.
The result could prompt some soul searching in the AKP, Turkey's dominant political movement for more than a decade, in which religious conservatives, with Erdogan's support, have gained the ascendancy in recent years at the expense of center-right and liberal elements.
Decisive in the bloody nose dealt Erdogan was the success of a pro-Kurdish opposition party campaigning on a broad leftist agenda that surged ahead to enter parliament.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) picked up about 13 percent of the vote and 79 seats, clearing the 10 percent threshold required for a party to take up its seats, sparking celebrations early Monday morning in the largely ethnic Kurdish city of Diyarbakir.
Gonul Tol, the director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute, told Al Jazeera that the AKP's loss of the Kurdish vote played a big role in its poor showing. "The [AKP] formed a wide coalition when it came to power ... but it lost the support of conservative Kurds," she said.
"In the Kurdish region the two most important political actors have been the [AKP] and the pro-Kurdish HDP, but after President Erdogan's indifference to the suffering of Kurds in Kobane, the [AKP] lost the support of conservative Kurds, and the HDP secured those votes," she said. "At the same time, the ruling party lost the support of nationalists because they opened the Kurdish peace talks."
Erdogan, strident in his attacks on opponents he has in the past accused of betraying Turkey, seemed conciliatory in first comments after the poll — a stark contrast to his triumphalist appearances after recent local and presidential elections.
"Our nation's opinion is above everything else," he said. "I believe the results, which do not give the opportunity to any party to form a single party government, will be assessed healthily and realistically by every party.”
The precarious outcome may stir concern in Western capitals that see Turkey, a member of the Western military alliance NATO, as an important island of political stability on the edge of a turbulent Middle East.
Erdogan, Turkey's most popular modern leader but not one used to compromise and negotiation, hoped a crushing victory for the AKP would allow it to change the constitution and create a more powerful U.S.-style presidency. Opponents feared his vision lacked checks and balances, with the judiciary already weakened by purges of officials Erdogan accused of conspiring to topple him.
Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told reporters the AKP would try to form a coalition government as its first option and was optimistic that it would be able to do so, but he added that an early election could be in the cards if it failed.
A coalition without the AKP, he said, would be impossible.
The right-wing Nationalist Movement Party is seen as the AKP's most likely partner. But Nationalist Movement leader Devlet Bahceli all but ruled out such a deal on Sunday, saying Turkey should hold new elections if the ruling party was unable to form a coalition with other opposition groups.
"The possibility of a government coming out of the current situation is very slim," one senior AKP official said before a meeting with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and party leaders to evaluate Sunday's outcome. "With these results, an early election seems inevitable."
Erdogan has yet to appear in public after the election result but is expected to meet with Davutoglu later on Monday. He is expected to ask Davutoglu to try to form a government once official results have been published but could call early elections if Davutoglu is unable to do so within 45 days.
"Everything, from the economy to big projects, is currently on hold, and we don't have the luxury of continuing with an uncertain and weak government at a time when the world is facing great economic risks," a second senior AKP official said.
The AKP's failure to win an outright majority marks an end to more than a decade of single-party rule and is a setback for Erdogan and Davutoglu.
Both men had portrayed the election as a choice between a new Turkey and a return to a history marked by short-lived coalition governments, economic instability and coups by a military whose influence Erdogan has reined in.
The secularist Republican People's Party remained the second-biggest group in parliament, with about a quarter of the vote. But it is ideologically opposed to the AKP and has ruled out any prospect of a coalition with it.
The HDP has also ruled out going into coalition with the AKP. Its co-leader Selahattin Demirtas said on Sunday the election outcome has put an end to talk of the stronger presidential powers championed by Erdogan.
Al Jazeera and wire services