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Turkey election: Polls open for voters in Germany

April 27, 2023

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has, in the past, had strong support from the roughly 1.5 million Turkish citizens in Germany eligible to vote. But the latest election presents his toughest challenge in years.

A voter casts his vote for the parliamentary and presidential elections in Turkey at the Turkish Consulate General.
Turks abroad can vote for the parliamentary and presidential election in Turkey until May 9Image: Rolf Vennenbernd/dpa/picture alliance

Turkish nationals living in Germany started casting their votes for Turkey's presidential and parliamentary elections on Thursday. 

The elections, with the first round of voting on May 14 in Turkey, pose what some observers say is the toughest test so far for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been in power for 20 years.

According to recent polls, Erdogan is likely to be running neck-and-neck with Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who leads a rare opposition coalition of secular, conservative and nationalist factions.

Erdogan kicks off election campaign

What we know about the voting in Germany

Turkish citizens living abroad can vote in the parliamentary and presidential elections until May 9. Nearly 2.8 million people living in Germany have a Turkish migration background, and around 1.5 million of them have Turkish citizenship and are of voting age.

Germany's Foreign Ministry said it informed the Turkish government that 16 polling stations were approved in Germany.

"Never before have so many polling stations been approved in connection with Turkish elections. In 2018 and 2017, for example, there were 13," the ministry said.

Berlin said polling stations were approved in all cities where Turkey maintains consular representations. Those cities are Berlin, Düsseldorf, Essen, Frankfurt am Main, Münster, Hamburg, Hannover, Karlsruhe, Cologne, Mainz, Munich, Nürnberg and Stuttgart, as well as in Aachen, Bremen und Regensburg.

Turkey's election authority, the YSK, had previously said that 26 voting locations would be available in Germany, according to the German news agency DPA.

Erdogan's popularity in Germany

Ahead of the 2018 presidential election, and amid heightened tensions between Erdogan and Berlin, the Turkish leader accused Germany of blocking his campaign efforts in the country.  

Germany does not allow election campaign events by high-ranking foreign politicians on its soil in the 30 days leading up to the vote as a general rule, the Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

The 2018 ban had followed a 2014 Erdogan event in Cologne, where he rallied his supporters ahead of that year's election that he had insisted was not a campaign speech but rather a visit to honor the 10th anniversary of the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD). Several German politicians had appealed to Erdogan to call the event off.

Erdogan has long enjoyed wide support among Turks in Germany. In the 2018 election, he received 64.8% of their votes — while winning 52.6% of the vote at home. 

The trend is most prominent in Germany. In the same election, Erdogan received just 17% of the votes from Turkish citizens living in the US, 21% in the UK, 35% in Iran and 29% in Qatar.

But whether the 69-year-old leader will maintain that level of support this year is in question, as the center-left Kilicdaroglu's popularity soars in opinion polls. 

Kemal Kilicdaroglu (left) takes a selfie with supporters in Ankara
Kilicdaroglu has led the largest center-left opposition party for more than a decade, but now he's at the head of a very broad coalitionImage: ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images

Germany's Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir, who has family roots in Turkey from the Circassian ethnic minority and who is a staunch critic of Erdogan, told the RND media group that a victory for Kilicdaroglu "would pave the way for a return to democracy."

Kilicdaroglu, 74, leads a six-party opposition alliance promising to transform Turkey and turn it back into a "strong parliamentary system."

fb/msh (AP, dpa)