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Turkey election: Voting abroad ends, higher turnout reported

May 9, 2023

More Turkish people living abroad have reportedly cast their vote compared to the last election in 2018. But the vote has reflected polarization in the diaspora over their support of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A woman prepares a voting letter as expat Turkish citizens vote at the Turkish Consulate General during early voting in Turkish general elections
Voters abroad cast their ballots from April 27 until May 9Image: Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Voting ended on Tuesday for millions of Turkish people living abroad in a tense election that many see as a referendum on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's rule.

The May 14 election is increasingly looking like a tight race between Erdogan and his main challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu. The latest opinion polls show that the latter, who is the candidate for a six-party opposition coalition, is marginally ahead. 

The vote comes as Turkey reels from the aftermath of catastrophic earthquakes and amid an economic crisis.

Voters living abroad make up 3.4 million of Turkey's 64.1 million registered electorate, with Germany being home to the largest Turkish diaspora of 1.5 million.

Turkish diaspora in Germany heads to the polls

What we know about this year's turnout

Turkish public broadcaster TRT reported, citing the country's Supreme Election Council (YSK), that more than 1.7 million voters cast their ballots abroad. The figure is higher than the turnout in the last election, when roughly 1.4 million people voted oversees. 

Yunus Ulusoy of the Center for Turkish Studies in Essen, in western Germany, said there was an increase of 19% in the turnout in Germany, compared to 2018. 

"The increase in voter turnout makes it clear that Turkish voters attach great emotional importance to the elections, even though the results do not affect their everyday lives in Germany," Ulusoy said.

Turkish voters abroad have traditionally voted for conservative candidates, with Erdogan enjoying wide popularity, particularly among voters in Germany. But Ulusoy said he believed the opposition alliance likely managed to mobilize more this time than in 2018.

Kilicdaroglu's party has been trying to tap into Erdogan's base of support in Germany. It was organizing daily buses to take voters to the Turkish consulate in Berlin. 

Elections in Turkey: Is Erdogan losing power?

Polarization over Erdogan

Spates of violence have been recorded in multiple polling stations in Europe, reflecting the polarization of the Turkish diasporas, especially on their support -- or opposition -- for Erdoagn

Last week, French police in the southern city of Marseille fired tear gas to stop a fight between Erdogan's supporters and dissidents. Police said they arrested two people.

In the Netherlands, police said they broke up a "massive brawl involving some 300 people" at an Amsterdam polling station.

fb/jcg (AFP, dpa)