BERLIN — By all forecasts, the outcome of the parliamentary and presidential elections in Turkey will be close, so close, some say, that there could be a runoff for the presidency. If Recep Tayip Erdogan does not receive a clear majority in the first round on June 24, he could face a candidate backed by a coalition of opposition parties. Two weeks later, a runoff would be called on July 8 (from June 30 to July 4 for voters abroad). And in that case, the votes cast by Turkish citizens living outside the country, who make up an estimated 5 percent of the total electorate, could prove decisive.
This helps explain the special focus that Erdogan and his AKP party colleagues have been placing on wooing voters in Germany. Of the more than 3 million eligible Turkish voters living abroad, there are 1.4 million in Germany alone. The European countries that follow in rank are home to substantial numbers of voters, but considerably fewer than Germany; France with 341,000, Holland with 260,000 and Belgium with 142,000 according to German press reports. The US and Canada account for about 100,000 each.
Voting began on June 7 at 13 polls set up in the Turkish consulates throughout Germany, as well as Austria and France, and will continue until June 19. Erdogan is hoping that he and his AKP will profit from what he hopes will be a massive turnout. During a speech in Mugla on June 6, he appealed to voters in Europe to flock to the polls until they burst; “the signal that you send from abroad,” he said, “will, God willing, blend together with the votes of your brethren in Turkey.” And his foreign minister, Mevlüt Cavusoglu, called for an even higher vote than what Turkish voters in Germany had delivered for the referendum last year. At that time, the turnout was 50 percent and 63 percent of those who voted cast a “yes” for Erdogan’s changes.
Campaign Rallies Banned
The problem Erdogan has is that he cannot rally the masses directly. Last year in March Germany issued a ban on any campaign speeches by Turkish politicians, a move followed by Holland and Austria. In response Erdogan accused the Germans of adopting “Nazi methods.” When Chancellor Angela Merkel and SPD politician Martin Schulz indicated that the talks on Turkey’s bid for EU membership were at a dead end, he said they were all “Nazis of fascists.” This did not endear him to the political class in Berlin, nor did it lead to any rethinking of the ban.
And yet, early polls indicate that there is considerable support for Erdogan and the AKP. The reasons suggested by political analysts are complex: as one German TV feature presented it, Turks living in Germany, even those who were born here, tend to consider Turkey still as their homeland. They view Erdogan as the man who succeeded in providing economic growth, fighting poverty, building public infrastructure, roads, bridges, airports, schools and hospitals. Although in reality, the economy has entered a serious crisis and the national currency has taken a nose dive, the picture presented in the state controlled media, which many Turkish-Germans follow, is still the rosy one of years past.