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Turkey

Turks head to the polls - in Germany

For the first time in Turkish history, Turks living abroad can vote in an election as they choose their president in what is likely to be a test run for future votes. But turnout is expected to be fairly low.

"I find it very exciting and thrilling to take part in an election," Fatima Keskin said. The 32-year-old Turkish woman from Essen is overjoyed. For the first time in her life she is going to the polls. Although she was born and grew up in Germany, she has only Turkish nationality.

So far she has not been able to vote: In Germany, Keskin is not allowed to vote, and if she had wanted to cast her ballot in Turkish elections, she would have had to travel there. As a mother, she was unable to do so. Now, however, for the first time in Turkish history, citizens of the country living abroad may also exercise their right to vote.

Two years ago the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan decided to amend the electoral law. His AKP (Justice and Development) Party also pushed through a law that made the Turkish presidency elected by direct popular vote, instead of chosen by parliament. Around 1.4 million Turks living in Germany are eligible and have until Sunday (03.08.2014) to vote at one of seven locations in Germany.

Türkei Präsidentschaftswahl Wahllokal in Frankfurt

This Turkish polling station is located in Frankfurt

Will Erdogan benefit from the new right to vote?

All adult Turkish citizens with their primary residence in Germany are entitled to vote. Turks who have opted for German citizenship and who had to give up their Turkish passport are excluded from the election. The favorite for the presidency, elected in Turkey on August 10, is Erdogan himself.

Experts believe the electoral law was changed to benefit him. "In Germany, Erdogan will get in a higher share of the vote than in Turkey. This also has to do with the fact that people in the diaspora have a different emotional attitude than those in Turkey itself," said Yunus Ulusoy, a research associate at the Center for Turkish Studies and Integration Research in Essen.

For Turks living abroad, it is not just a question of which political position has their sympathies. Much also depends on how well they have been integrated into their country of residence and what attitude toward Turkey prevails in Germany. Many German Turks grew up with a negative image of Turkey, he said.

The "sick man of Europe" is the view many Turks had of their country of origin. With the economic boom under the Erdogan government, this has changed. "For many. Erdogan is a strong man. He stands for the economic boom in Turkey and can benefit from this new self-confidence, especially among Turks living abroad, because they can say, 'Finally we are also somebody.'"

'Proud to be Turkish'

Tugba Yolüc

Tugba Yolüc is once again proud to be Turkish

This new sense of pride strengthens their inner loyalty to the prime minister. "I keep my fingers crossed for the AKP. That's a no-brainer. Much has changed for the better. Turkey is in some ways much more modern than many countries in Europe," Tugba Yolüc said. The 22-year-old architecture student from Essen is an Erdogan fan. She's thinking about spending her life in Turkey - at least in the west. The economic boom offers her perhaps better career opportunities than in Germany. "There were times when I was embarrassed to be Turkish. But now I'm very proud of it."

For more than ten years Erdogan and his AKP have ruled the country. Since then, much more has happened than just an economic boom. In the once secular state, Islam is again visible, something that is especially popular in conservative religious circles. But Erdogan also has many critics, both in Turkey and in the diaspora - especially since the Gezi Park protests last year.

"I have come here today to give my vote to the smallest party," Metin Dursun said. Besides Erdogan, there are two other politicians running for the country's highest office: Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, former secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), who is competing as a common candidate of the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and the Kurd Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the Democratic Party of the Peoples (HDP). As a Kurd the 39-year-old hotel manager is supporting Demirtas - even if the candidate has little chance.

Backsliding on democracy

Wahlzettel Präsidentschaftswahlen Türkei

Three candidates are running for president, but Erdogan is expected to win handily

Dursun is critical of developments in Turkey: "The process of democratic development in Turkey leaves something to be desired. Turkey is still among the countries that put undesirable lawyers, journalists and other critics in prisons." The increasing Islamization under Erdogan is a step backwards, he said, because politicians are increasingly dictating Turks' lives.

Observers expect a relatively low turnout among Turks living abroad, although Turks traditionally turn out to the polls in great numbers. Many German Turks are currently on vacation and for others the journey to the polling stations in large cities is too far. But still, these first elections for Turks living abroad are an important test run for future rounds of voting. Next year, Turkish parliamentary elections are to be held.

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