Turkish voters abroad play a major role in the Turkish presidential elections, as they represent about 5.3% of the total electorate, which is undoubtedly capable of tipping the favor for one of the candidates, especially current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, taking into account the high rate of voter turnout from abroad in the presidential elections in 2014, when the turnout rate was only 18.9%, which then rose to 50.1% in 2018. Thanks to them, Erdogan was able to win the elections, obtaining 59.4% of their votes.
The elections for Turks abroad began on Thursday, April 27 and will continue until May 9, with about 3.42 million expatriates participating who are entitled to vote.
Four candidates for the presidency
Four candidates are competing in the presidential elections: current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, Homeland Party candidate Muharrem İnce, and Ancestral Alliance (ATA Alliance) candidate Sinan Oğan. Parliamentary and presidential elections are scheduled to be held at home on May 14.
Erdogan relies a lot on the votes of the Turks in Germany, which alone includes about 50% of the voting bloc abroad. The biggest evidence of this is the referendum on the constitution in 2017 to switch from a parliamentary system to a presidential one, in which about 63% of Turks in Germany voted in favor of the constitutional amendments proposed by Erdogan, while the percentage in Turkey was just under 51%. In the 2018 presidential elections, 64.8% of the votes abroad went to Erdogan, while in Turkey he only got 52.6% of the votes.
Conservative position on Erdogan
According to Yunus Ulusoy, a researcher at the Center for Turkish Studies and Integration Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen, most of the immigrant Turks are from conservative rural areas in Anatolia, so they continue to develop the values that they bring with them, and they adhere to their more conservative religious positions in exile, so their decision is to elect the Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Ulusoy added in a statement to the Reference that in the presidential elections in 2018, in which 3.04 million citizens were registered to vote abroad, Erdogan won an overwhelming majority of them, as 64% in Germany, 63% in France, 72% in the Netherlands, and 74% in Belgium, and 71% in Austria supported the incumbent, with an average of 64.8% of the total vote of Turks abroad.
Playing on internal political contradictions
For her part, Dr. Ghada Abdel Aziz, a researcher specializing in international relations, said, “The current Turkish president enjoys the charisma of a political leader, and his biography is full of experience and achievements, in addition to his conservative Islamic identity, which makes him popular with a wide spectrum of voters, and it is likely that conservative and nationalist grassroots will vote for him.”
She added in a statement to the Reference that Erdogan has experience and skills in addressing the public and convincing them that he is the best, which enabled him to win ten elections in a row thanks to his skills in playing on internal political contradictions and turning the major crises he faced into opportunities. In these elections, Erdogan’s electoral wager is not limited to containing the repercussions of the earthquake and resolving the economic crisis, but also includes playing on the weaknesses of the opposition.
Abdel Aziz stressed that Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party is the strongest in Turkey, as it has achieved many accomplishments and development in various fields over two decades, so Turkey was able to play a prominent role at the regional and international levels, which gives it strengths in the face of its competitors. Therefore, the AKP enjoys the support of Turks abroad, which was witnessed in all the previous elections, as they see the election of the incumbent president and his party as their only way to preserve the future of Turkey.
Real threat to Erdogan
Abdel Aziz noted that the real threat that may shake Erdogan’s throne is the worsening economic problems as a result of his policies that have exhausted the economy and with it the decline in the exchange rate of the lira, as it recorded the highest rate of inflation in 24 years, reaching 85% last year. Erdogan therefore announced one economic package after another as the election date approached to gain more support for him, most notably announcing an unprecedented public spending plan that includes energy subsidies, doubling the minimum wage and increasing pensions, as well as providing opportunities for the retirement of more than two million people. The government also surprisingly announced its intention to increase the salaries of officers and non-commissioned officers a month before the elections in an attempt to restore part of the popularity he lost.
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