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Turkey's upcoming election raises concern in Germany

Marina Strauss
June 7, 2018

Turks living in Germany will be able to vote in their home country from this Thursday. Some German politicians fear that many are being pressured to vote for Erdogan and his party.

Deutschland Abstimmung - Türkei-Referendum
Image: picture alliance/dpa/U. Deck

In the run-up to Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) are once again relying on the Turks in Germany — even though campaign appearances on German soil have been banned for over a year.

"Such a ban only incites our supporters," argues Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu of the AKP. "The vast majority of Turks abroad support us."

It does, in fact, appear likely that many of the more than 1.4 million eligible Turks living in Germany will vote for Erdogan and his AKP in the coming days — at least based on voting patterns in recent elections. In last year's constitutional referendum, almost two thirds of German Turks supported the president's plan to change the constitution and introduce a presidential system. Starting this Thursday, voters across 13 German cities will be able to cast their ballots in the presidential and parliamentary elections.

The planned constitutional reforms, which have been also very controversial in Germany, will be completed after the snap election on June 24. The election was originally to be held in 2019. Erdogan brought it forward in anticipation of an impending currency crisis. He also wanted to prevent the new nationalist "Good Party" (IYI) from competing too strongly with him. From Erdogan's point of view, the best-case scenario would see him, after an election victory, effectively as both head of state and government — also able to wield considerable influence on the judiciary.

'A mood of intimidation'

But it may end up being a close call for Erdogan, according to surveys. There are five rival candidates running which could pose a threat to him — especially if Erdogan fails to win outright in the first round vote and then has to face one of them head-to-head. German MP for the Christian Democrats, Roderich Kiesewetter, also considers it "anything but certain" that there will be another outright election victory for the current president.

"Many eligible voters have become increasingly critical of the negative effects on the Turkish economy and civil rights that have resulted from Erdogan's restructuring of the country," Kiesewetter told DW.

Türkei Erdogan wirft Deutschland «Nazi-Praktiken» vor
Some observers claim that an Erdogan victory is not guaranteedImage: Reuters/M. Sezer

Read more: Demirtas: Europe is letting Turkey’s opposition down

It remains to be seen, however, whether such doubts and criticism of Erdogan's policies will lead to a corresponding election result. Gokay Akbulut, MP for the Left Party, believes that massive pressure is also being exerted on Turks living in Germany.

"A mood of intimidation has spread among citizens of Turkish origin in Germany in recent years," says Akbulut. "Many no longer dare to express their political views openly because they fear that this could create problems for relatives in Turkey."

In addition, Akbulut believes that the Turkish government has installed a network of informers within Germany to collect information about opposition members without hindrance. "It would be naive to think that this practice has no effect on the voting behavior of the constituency in Germany," she says.

Kiesewetter disagrees: "I expect things to go smoothly and firmly believe that every eligible voter will be free to make his or her own decision on who to vote for," he told DW.

Roderich Kiesewetter Mitglied NSA-Untersuchungsausschuss
The CDU's Kiesewetter does not believe German Turks are facing coercionImage: picture-alliance/dpa

'I do not expect the elections to be free'

Akbulut, however, does not rule out the possibility that the elections will be rigged. Free Democrat (FDP) MP, Gyde Jensen, shares these concerns. She will be in Turkey as an OSCE election observer. And she does not believe that everything will be "free and independent."  As the chair of the German parliament's Human Rights Committee, she told DW that she has been particularly concerned about the situation where "tens of thousands of people" who have been critical of the regime are being detained.

Read more:  Deutsche Welle and Taz shed light on Turkey elections

Green Party MP, Cem Özdemir agrees with Akbulut and Jensen. "Anyone who wants a democratic, Europe-oriented Turkey is hoping, of course, that there will be democratic elections," he says.

Berlin Bundestag - Cem Özdemir
Cem Özdemir is among Erdogan's staunchest critics in the BundestagImage: picture-alliance/düa/B. von Jutrcenka

Özdemir is particularly critical that the left-wing, pro-Kurdish, People's Democratic Party (HDP) candidate, Selahattin Demirtas,is running his election campaign from prison. He has been held on terrorist charges since 2016. In the case of Turkey's vote on June 24, there can be no talk of free elections according to Western standards, Özdemir laments.