Turkey election: Voters in Germany head to polls | News | DW | 07.06.2018
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Turkey Election

Turkey election: Voters in Germany head to polls

Voting for Turkish voters abroad is underway. But as a visit to the polling station at Berlin's Turkish consulate found, opinion on the future of Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is divided.

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Polls open for Turkish voters living in Germany

By 8:30 a.m. on Thursday morning, a large queue had already formed at the Turkish Consulate in Berlin. Until June 19, some 60,000 voters in the German capital are expected to pass through the consulate gates to cast their ballots in Turkey's presidential and parliamentary elections.

Concerns over manipulation prompted tightened security, with media and voters all undergoing a "routine" pat down before entering the grounds. Inside, security guards, decked out in suits and aviators, paroled the row of portacabins.

Read more: Turkey's upcoming election raises concern in Germany

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Turkish parties compete for expat vote in Germany

One of the first voters to successfully navigate security was Ezgi Dikdun. The 31-year-old consultant moved to Berlin from Izmir 18 months ago "because of the unrest, the terror, the bombings."

"I didn’t feel like I was represented as a progressive Turkish woman. I thought Germany would give me that chance," she said.

Asked where she’ll be marking her cross on the ballot paper, she said: "I'm voting for hope, for change. Maybe that tells you something about who I'll vote for."

Voter in Berlin

Ezgi Dikdun, 31, told DW that she's voting "for hope; for change."

Another voter who preferred not to give his name said he voted for jailed former leader of the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtas.

"I voted for him because says he wants to bring us together and bring democracy to Turkey," the 24-year-old said.

Like Ezgi, the IT student said violence forced him to leave his home in Surici, the old town of Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey.

"We couldn’t live there anymore. Everyday there were bombs. There was so much pressure and the police were everywhere," he said.

Voter in Berlin

This 24-year-old voted for jailed former leader of the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtas

Fragile relations

With Turkey having detained a number of German citizens in a crackdown following the failed coup attempt in July 2016, relations between Ankara and Berlin are fractious. The elections, which in Turkey will take place on June 24, are being closely observed by Berlin.

"A mood of intimidation has spread among citizens of Turkish origin in Germany in recent years," Gokay Akbulut, German lawmaker with the opposition Left Party, told DW.

A total of 1.4 million Turkish nationals living in Germany are eligible to vote, but "many no longer dare to express their political views openly because they fear that this could create problems for relatives in Turkey," said Akbulut.

Voter manipulation?

Rumors that voters are being pressured to vote for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) are, however, unfounded, according to Consul General Muhammet Mustafa Çelik.

"Every night the ballot boxes will be sealed up, without being opened, and stored under lock and key," he told DW. “Then, on June 20, they'll be sent — unopened — to Turkey."

While optimistic that there'd be no manipulation of ballots in the German capital, Mehtap Erol, co-leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP in Berlin, criticized that the vote boxes will be flown to Turkey unescorted.

"It’s bad that the ballot papers will be locked in a room for three to four days. We don't have a clue what goes on in there," Erol said.

Read more: Germany and the long arm of Turkey's AKP

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Erdogan is 'the future'

Among the thousands of people jailed in the post-putsch clampdown are some 150 journalists — and rightfully so, say the Ardic family.

"Those who are imprisoned supported the coup attempt. If they hadn't done anything wrong they wouldn’t have been detained," they said as they waited to vote at the consulate in Berlin. "Normal journalists can live in Turkey without any problems."

For the Ardic family, President Erdogan is the man to lead Turkey. Sixty-seven-year-old father and former driver in the German police force, Mehmet first arrived in Germany in 1969. At just 18 he was one of the hundreds of thousands of guest workers who traveled to Germany to fill the demand for cheap labor in a booming post-war economy.

"The AKP has done so much for the country in their 16 years in power: improving hospitals and the roads. That's why Erdogan is the future of Turkey," he told DW.

Turkey's economy flourished, indeed, after the AKP was first elected to power in 2002. Gross domestic product tripled, more than $220 billion (€186 billion) in foreign investment flooded the Turkish markets and inflation was back in single figures.

But as the country now makes its transition from a parliamentary democracy to an executive presidential system, Turkey is fast approaching an economic crisis: the lira currency is rapidly losing value, tourists are staying away and investors are losing confidence.

Voters in Berlin

Hamide, Fatima and Mehmet Ardic say Erdogan's AKP is the "best choice" for Turkey

Tight result

A look at the results of last November's referendum, which gave Erdogan sweeping powers, give an indication as to how close the elections might turn out on June 24. While votes in Berlin were split 50/50, in other parts of Germany, it was a different story.

In western German cities, anywhere between 64 and 76 percent of voters said 'Yes' to extending Erdogan's powers - shedding as much light on Germany's own problems as Turkey's.

Read more: Why many Turks in Germany voted 'yes' in Erdogan's referendum

At the consulate, Ezgi Dikdun left no doubt what she felt was riding on this election. "When I go back, I want to have some peace and less polarization."

"Sorry – I'm going to cry now," she said, rummaging around her handbag for sunglasses.

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