Gov’t drafting legislation to allow expat voting in elections

July 12, 2010, Monday/ 17:07:00/ ERCAN YAVUZ
The government has started to draft legislation that will allow Turkish citizens residing abroad to vote in general elections without having to come to Turkey in person after a European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruling that found the practice of forcing people to travel to vote in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The government hopes to have the new law enacted before the general elections in 2011.

The government will conduct intensive diplomacy with those European countries that do not allow Turks to cast votes in Turkish elections in the town of their residence now that it has the ECtHR ruling to support Turkey’s cause.

Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark and other countries with high Turkish populations traditionally have not allowed Turkish citizens to cast votes in Turkish embassies or consulates, citing security reasons. The ECtHR ruling will help Turkey significantly in establishing a system allowing citizens to vote abroad. The votes from abroad are expected to send about 10 deputies to Parliament.

 On July 7, the ECHR announced its ruling in the Sitaropoulos and Giakoumopoulos v. Greece case, where two Greek nationals working as officials of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg had applied to the court over not being able to exercise their voting rights in France. The court found that the obligation to travel “considerably complicated the exercise of their right because it entailed expenses and disturbance to their professional and family life.”

The decision will serve as a precedent not only for Greece but all of Europe as the ruling also alludes to a 2005 resolution from the court that said all European nations should grant nationals of other countries the right to vote in their host country.

The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government in 2007 passed a law that allows citizens residing in foreign countries to vote in general elections, presidential elections and referenda at customs gates and via mail. However the Constitutional Court canceled this regulation. In addition to this domestic obstacle, European countries, particularly Germany, have put up various obstacles before Turkish citizens seeking to vote in Turkish elections. Turkey has failed to resolve this despite various diplomatic initiatives.

The government is now preparing once again to lobby for its citizens abroad, this time with the backing of the ECtHR ruling. Germany, where 1.5 million Turkish voters reside, will be the first destination in the tour of European nations. A total of 4.5 million Turkish voters reside abroad.

Independent deputies

Turkey hopes to eventually have Turkish citizens not only in Europe but all over the world vote at polling stations opened in consulates and embassies. Once the concerns of the relevant countries are addressed, a council for voters abroad will be set up under the Ankara Provincial Election Agency. This body will be responsible for handling votes cast abroad. Citizens voting abroad will not have the right to vote for independent deputies. Polls indicate that more than 55 percent of Turks residing abroad feel close to the AK Party. The government hopes to make its plan operational by the time of the general elections next year.

Ballot boxes for the disabled

The government is also taking a series of measures to facilitate voting for the disabled. A new ballot has been developed by a private company for the visually impaired to vote without the need for the aid of another individual. The Supreme Election Board (YSK) will make the ultimate decision on the new ballot.

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