Turkish elections abroad see record-high turnout

Turkish elections abroad see record-high turnout

Thousands flocked to polling stations in the past week abroad as the Turkish diaspora exhibited a rare high turnout ahead of critical May 14 elections

Nearly 800,000 people voted in polling stations abroad as overseas voting started for Turkish citizens last week, according to Azerbaijan in Focus, reporting Daily Sabah. The number is far high than some 350,000 people who went to the polls in the same period during the 2018 elections.

The high interest for May 14 presidential and parliamentary elections, before the polls close on May 9 for voters abroad, may play into the hands of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which boasted enormous support from the Turkish diaspora in the previous elections.

The incumbent President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, garnered over 59% of the vote abroad, ahead of his rival, Muharrem Ince, who won only 25.8% in the 2018 elections. Most of the votes for both candidates were from Europe. In the 2018 elections, Erdoğan received 64% of the votes in Germany, 63% in France, 72% in the Netherlands, 74% in Belgium and 71% in Austria.

Erdoğan’s AK Party has been pursuing an intense election campaign abroad to attract voters with lawmakers organizing campaign events.

As of Tuesday evening, a total of 797,841 people cast their ballots at polling stations in Turkish diplomatic missions across the world and at ballot boxes placed at Turkish customs gates.

Some 3.41 million people are expected to cast their votes abroad, including nearly 278,000 young first-time voters.

The Supreme Election Council (YSK) has placed 4,671 polling stations on border gates for these voters. In addition, ballot boxes are set up for the first time in countries like Belarus, Brazil, Estonia, Morocco, Montenegro, the Republic of Korea, Libya, Lithuania, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Portugal, Slovakia and Tanzania.

Once overseas voting ends, ballots will be brought to Türkiye via diplomatic couriers and methods determined by the YSK under maximum security measures to be kept safe in the capital Ankara.

These boxes will be opened at 5:00 p.m. after voting ends on May 14 across Türkiye. Counting these votes will be done under the supervision of the Directorate of Foreign Provincial Election Council. In the presidential election, votes cast overseas directly add to the total percentage of votes the candidates garner in Türkiye.

In the parliamentary election, overseas votes are distributed proportionately to constituencies countrywide according to the number of voters and the ballots parties receive in each province.

Election campaigns for parties experienced problems abroad. In Germany, in particular, the AK Party incurred the wrath of supporters of the terrorist groups PKK and Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) when Erdoğan’s election posters adorned the streets in Nuremberg. Nuremberg was the only city to allow posters to be hung. Still, after a massive social media campaign by terrorist group supporters, the signs “disappeared.”

In contrast, a spokesperson for the city hall said they would implement a regulation in the future to restrict campaigning for foreign political parties.

Germany hosts the most prominent Turkish diaspora of 1.5 million people in Europe. A total of 26 polling stations are open in Germany alone. Germany was criticized in earlier Turkish elections for blocking election rallies by AK Party. Recently, Germany’s justice minister urged fellow Cabinet members to take action against planned election rallies by the AK Party in Germany.

Marco Buschmann voiced concerns about an “intensive campaign by supporters of the Turkish president” to Interior Minister Nancy Faeser and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in a letter reported by the German media. He cited claims of “limits of freedom of expression” being exceeded in the past, noting a speech in Germany by an AK Party lawmaker in Germany’s Neuss.

Mustafa Açıkgöz simply reiterated Türkiye’s determination to eradicate terrorist groups, including the PKK and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), in his speech, referring to both groups’ presence in Germany. Açıkgöz’s statement prompted a crisis between the two countries and was deemed as “hate speech” by officials in Germany, which also recognizes the PKK as a terrorist group.

Buschmann called fellow ministers to ensure the enforcement of laws overseeing the assemblies of political groups ahead of Turkish elections and “clearly tell Türkiye” that they would not tolerate exceeding the limits of freedom of expression.

In 2017, Germany amended assembly laws solely to prevent AK Party campaigns in the future. The amendment bans election rallies toward residents of Germany hailing from another country at least three months before the election. Germany joined the Netherlands and Austria in 2018 by prohibiting political rallies by Turkish politicians ahead of elections.