Turkey looks to learn from Egyptian experience in expat voting

June 04, 2012, Monday/ 15:19:00/ ABDULLAH BOZKURT

A top Egyptian diplomat in Ankara announced on Monday that the Turkish Supreme Election Board (YSK) has shown interest in learning from the experience of Egypt in allowing its citizens residing overseas to vote in national elections.

Speaking at a workshop organized by the Ankara-based Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), Egyptian Ambassador Abderahman Salaheldin said, “I'm happy to report that Turkey's election commission has shown an interest in learning about our experience very much like our political parties have come to Turkey to learn about Turkey's political experience.”

Parliament adopted a bill in May to allow Turkish citizens residing abroad to cast their votes in Turkish elections from their host countries for the first time. The bill amended the Law on the Fundamental Provisions of Elections and the Law on Voter Lists.

The Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which has long pushed for this change, proposed the bill. Parliament changed the law in 2008 to allow expat voters to cast their votes at ballot boxes set up at customs checkpoints, but a bill to allow them to vote by mail without leaving their country of residence was overturned by the Constitutional Court based on the principle of protecting confidentiality when voting. The revised version of the law took into account the high court's ruling.

It is estimated that there are about 2.5 million Turkish voters living abroad. The YSK had not applied the government's reforms making it easier for Turkish expats to vote in their host countries before the 2011 general elections, claiming that more legislative changes were needed. The law adopted last month addressed the inadequacies.

Yaşar Yakış, the founding member of the ruling AK Party and a former foreign minister, said he welcomed the YSK's interest in the experience of Egypt, stressing that the Egyptian democratic experience goes further back than the Turkish one. He said Egyptian political parties can also learn from the Turkish experience, especially in the transition from an overtly religious style of politics to a secular one.

Having served as a former ambassador to Egypt in the past, Yakış lamented the fact that Turkey and Egypt do not know each other sufficiently.

The Egyptian ambassador underlined that Turkey and Egypt have followed a similar foreign policy in the region, pursuing peace in the Middle East. “Most importantly, they resemble each other in the way both countries think of themselves as bridges between continents, different people and different civilizations. Working together, we can serve better in bridging civilizations,” he vowed.

Stressing that both Turkey and Egypt are strategic partners in the region and beyond, the Egyptian envoy said the recently established roll-on/roll-off ferry (Ro-Ro) link between the port of Mersin and Port Said in Egypt will change everything. “This is a strategic change in transportation routes in the region that can serve later on in cementing ties between Turkey and Egypt as well as bridging the two continents. Europe can channel trade through this route to the Gulf region. We are looking to the logistics industries to help make use of this new link,” he explained.

Salaheldin also drew attention to the fact that trade between Turkey and Egypt has increased 35 percent, even during the turmoil in Egypt, saying that this shows potential for bilateral relations.

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