Upcoming Turkish elections reverberate in Germany

Turkey will hold parliamentary and presidential elections on June 24 – roughly one and a half years ahead of schedule. Turkish citizens living abroad can already vote at Turkish consulates prior to that date. In Germany, home of the world’s largest diaspora of Turkish origin, roughly 1.4 million Turkish citizens are eligible to cast their ballots from June 7 to June 19.

President Erdoğan under pressure in opinion polls

President Erdoğan called early elections in a shock announcement on April 18. This move was widely interpreted as an attempt on his part to secure a more favourable electoral outcome for himself and his AK Party.

However, with less than two weeks to go until the elections, there are indications that the President’s gamble might not pay off. To be sure, the Turkish opinion polls do exhibit significant fluctuations. Most of them, however, see Erdoğan as falling short of his aim to obtain 50 per cent of the popular vote in the first round of the presidential elections.

Similarly, his AK Party stands at just over 40 per cent in polls for the parliamentary election. This raises the spectre of a hung parliament akin to the one resulting from the June 2015 election. Back then, the AK Party and oppositional Kemalist, nationalist, and pro-Kurdish forces had neutralised each other. (This state of affairs was remedied by another snap election in November 2015, which the AKP duly won with almost 50 per cent of the vote.)

Declining support for Erdoğan among German Turks?

Should this trend be confirmed on election day, it would signal a major dampener on President Erdoğan’s ambition and prestige. Perhaps even more surprising than Turkish voters’ seemingly cooling view of their President and his party are the indications of declining support for Erdoğan among Turkish citizens living in Germany.

A new poll conducted by TAVAK among German Turks sees Erdoğan as obtaining 48 per cent of the vote at the presidential elections – down a whopping 21 per cent from the results of the August 2014 elections that first carried Erdoğan to the Presidency.

Similar numbers are given by TAVAK for the parliamentary ballot: Here, too, the AK Party is seen as losing 21 per cent in support among German Turks. All opposition forces, including the new İYİ party formed by hard-line nationalist and laicist Meral Akşener, make significant gains at the incumbents’ expense.

Fears of intimidation

The reliability of these figures is, to be sure, somewhat uncertain. No other polls have been conducted among German Turks eligible to vote, meaning that there are no numbers that this snapshot could be compared to. Yet even a more modest decline in support for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would mark an important shift: German Turks had always been staunch supporters of his agenda at the ballot box so far.

German politicians have expressed fears that undue pressure may be exerted on Turkish residents to support Erdoğan and his party. Speaking to Deutsche Welle, Gökay Akbulut of The Left party asserted: “Many don’t dare to advertise their political stance openly because they fear that they might cause their relatives in Turkey problems.”1 This sentiment was seconded by Ali Ertan Toprak, chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany (TGD).2

It is indeed true that there have been reports of spying on and denunciations of German Turks critical of Erdoğan – in particular in the aftermath of the 2016 coup attempt. The precise extent of this practice and its impact – whether it really did spread a climate of fear throughout the German Turkish community – are, however, difficult to assess.

A calmer atmosphere

Clients at Café Kotti in the district of Kreuzberg, one of Berlin’s strongly Turkish neighbourhoods, observed that the situation – also within the German Turkish community – was calmer than in the run-up to the controversial 2017 constitutional referendum.3

This impression was echoed by Kıvanç Ersoy, a professor of mathematics who fled to Berlin after having been caught up in the wave of arrests that swept through Turkey after the military’s attempted putsch in July 2016.

Distributing leaflets for the pro-Kurdish HDP – whose chairman Selahattin Demirtaş is imprisoned in Turkey – on the streets of Kreuzberg, Ersoy asserted that he could utter his political opinions freely in Berlin. The local community had welcomed him in a friendly manner; and Ersoy stressed that he had not been treated as a “traitor” for his criticism of the Turkish president.4

Turkish dissidents moving to Germany

In recent years, a considerable number of Turkish dissidents have moved to Germany. At a high-point of the wave of repression in late 2016, Michael Roth, State Secretary in the German Foreign Office, stated that “all critical minds from Turkey should know that the Federal Government stands in solidarity with them”. Roth encouraged them to apply for asylum in Germany.5

Berlin has also attracted men and women who have not directly been in the crosshairs of the Turkish authorities but who have left Turkey for its current political climate. Speaking to Deutsche Welle while waiting in line to cast her ballot at the Turkish consulate, 31-year-old Ezgi Dikdun explains that she moved to Germany “because of the unrest, the terror and bomb attacks.”

“As a progressive Turkish woman I did not feel represented in Turkey”, Dikdun adds. “I thought Germany might give me a chance.” The election put her under considerable stress and she came close to tears while speaking to the journalists.6

Worries about the Turkish economy

Back at Café Kotti, Serdar Düzgün observed that many German Turks continue to be impressed with the massive development of infrastructure and with rising levels of economic well-being that have been attained under the AK Party’s leadership.7

However, economic woes might turn out to be Erdoğan’s Achilles heel in this election. The Turkish economy has overheated, growth rates are becoming unsustainable, and the Lira has plummeted as inflation has eaten away at its value. Yet whether this will really be enough to bring an end to Erdoğan’s hold on power remains to be seen.

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  1. http://www.dw.com/de/wahl-in-der-t%C3%BCrkei-weckt-%C3%A4ngste-in-deutschland/a-44101277  

  2. https://www.zdf.de/nachrichten/heute-journal/deutschtuerken-vor-tuerkei-wahl-100.html  

  3. https://www.zdf.de/nachrichten/heute-journal/deutschtuerken-vor-tuerkei-wahl-100.html  

  4. https://www.zdf.de/nachrichten/heute-journal/deutschtuerken-vor-tuerkei-wahl-100.html  

  5. http://taz.de/Asyl-in-Deutschland-fuer-verfolgte-Tuerken/!5354965/  

  6. http://www.dw.com/de/deutscht%C3%BCrken-haben-die-wahl/a-44113346  

  7. https://www.zdf.de/nachrichten/heute-journal/deutschtuerken-vor-tuerkei-wahl-100.html