Turkiye’s Supreme Election Board announced on Tuesday that Turkish citizens based abroad will be able to cast their votes in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections from April 27 to May 9 at border crossings and electoral venues abroad. The elections are due to be held on May 14.
Coinciding with the Turkish Republic’s centenary, these elections are considered as the most dramatic in the country’s history. Therefore, the choices of millions of voters becomes crucial. As each and every vote will be critical, the topic of the diaspora and its electoral participation is given special attention in a way that is hugely important for the competing political parties.
During the last decade, Turkish political parties have developed a proactive diaspora engagement policy, focusing on making the Turkish diaspora a crucial electorate gain. Turkiye has a population of more than 80 million, while the number of Turkish citizens living abroad is about 7 million, with a large majority (about 90 percent) of these in Western European countries. Turkish citizenship gives these emigrants the right to vote in elections.
In order to keep the country’s politics alive among the diaspora and foster Turks’ participation, Turkiye in 2010 opened a special agency — the Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities — as a separate government institution. It was established under the aegis of the office of the prime minister, which was then abolished under Turkiye’s new presidential system, and now operates under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
Since the 2014 presidential elections, when the country’s parliamentary system was replaced by a presidential model, Turks in Europe and elsewhere have been able to vote in Turkish elections, leading to active campaigning by some political leaders in European countries. The issue of diaspora votes even came onto the agenda when Turkiye got into a diplomatic row with several EU countries, which banned Turkish officials and MPs from addressing rallies of expatriates. Although these incidents led to a historic low in Turkish-EU relations, they also helped those parties to galvanize votes in their favor from Turks residing abroad.
Less than two months ahead of the elections, it seems no specific campaigns will be held for Turks residing abroad.
Before the devastating earthquakes struck southern Turkiye and northern Syria on Feb. 6, killing more than 50,000 people, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was scheduled to travel to Germany for a meeting with Chancellor Olaf Scholz. According to analysts, Scholz insisted on a condition from the Turkish side: that Erdogan would not hold any rallies while visiting Germany.
Germany, where the largest community of Turkish expatriates resides, is against both the ruling and opposition parties bringing the May 14 elections to its cities through rallies and events.
In previous years, during election campaigns in Turkiye, such rallies led to a crisis between Ankara and Berlin, as well as other European capitals. According to 2017 legal regulations in Germany, politicians from countries outside the EU are not allowed to hold election rallies or events in Germany less than three months before the election date.
Against this background, it was reported that a consensus was not reached between Ankara and Berlin on the content and timing of the Turkish president’s visit to Germany, and that the visit was canceled. Also, it was reportedly mentioned that a ruling Justice and Development Party deputy’s campaigning in Germany was one of the reasons behind the cancellation of the trip. This development did not come to the agenda until after the earthquake catastrophe and there has not been, so far, any attempt by a Turkish party official to hold an event or a rally in a European city. So, less than two months ahead of the elections, it seems no specific campaigns will be held for Turks residing abroad.
Worldwide, there are two contradicting approaches toward external voting. Proponents of external voting argue that expatriates should be able to exercise their democratic right and have a say in the future of their native country. On the other side, critics argue that expatriates have chosen to reside abroad, therefore they are not part of the so-called social contract that concerns those living within the country where the election is held. That is, only those who are governed should practice this right, since transnational voters are not directly governed by the leaders for whom they vote.
In Turkiye, there are also criticisms that expatriates are not facing the economic and political challenges of the country, as those citizens at home do. Therefore, their votes do not reflect the voice of the country’s people.
In any case, these elections will be the sixth time that members of the Turkish diaspora have been able to cast votes in their native country. Even though the expatriate vote does not generally make a huge difference to election outcomes, this time each and every vote will be critical for the competing parties in Turkiye’s highly contentious elections.