Voters abroad

Turks in Germany head to polls ahead of Turkey’s snap elections

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Ascent to the polling place. Source: DPA

Polls for Turkey’s snap elections opened today for expats in Germany, Austria and France, allowing the first round of voters to fill out ballots for the presidential and parliamentary election on June 24.

With around 1.4 million citizens with a Turkish passport living in Germany, the second-largest immigrant group after Russians, the community makes up nearly half of the 3 million expatriate Turks able to vote in elections — about 5 percent of the country’s total electorate. After Germany, the second-largest group of Turkish expats eligible to vote is in France, which by comparison is a measly 341,000.

The outcome of this election is of special interest: It will determine whether Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is re-elected, and at the same time boost the constitutional powers associated with the presidency. If Mr. Erdogan wins, he assumes those powers: the ability to rule by decree, appoint a vice-president without an election and have a say in appointing judges.

It will also officially remove the office of prime minister — a decision that was first narrowly approved in a constitutional referendum held in April 2017. Currently, Mr. Erdogan faces five other presidential candidates, but he is without a doubt the most powerful and prestigious politician in Turkey, with an approval rating of around 50 percent.

After witnessing the Turkish leader’s crackdown of dissidents following the failed putsch in 2016, Western countries have grown increasingly concerned that Mr. Erdogan’s power grab is turning the country from a democracy into a dictatorship.

The relationship between Germany and Turkey has been especially fraught. Ahead of the 2017 referendum Germany banned all Turkish politicians, and organizations associated with Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development party (AKP), from campaigning to its Turkish-German communities — drawing ire from the Turkish leader. The ban extends to the June 24 elections, which are taking place more than a year earlier than scheduled.

Despite studies suggesting that assumptions about political loyalties of Turkish Germans are often misguided, some 63% of Turkish-Germans voted in favor of Mr. Erdogan expanding his powers in 2017.

This makes the diaspora in Germany a key constituency for Mr. Erdogan to reach, especially since Turkey-based voters are more likely to be disenchanted with Mr. Erdogan after the Turkish lira depreciated some 20 percent against the dollar since the start of the year.

Christine Coester is an editor for Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: c.coester@handelsblattgroup.com

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