It will be no surprise if Turkish politicians start taking more frequent trips abroad during their campaigns.
With the adoption of a bill in March by the parliamentary Constitutional Commission, allowing Turkish citizens living abroad to vote at Turkish diplomatic missions, around 2.5 million Turkish expats will be able to cast their votes in the next general election. The recent visits of Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), to attend Turkish federation congresses in France and Austria might also be seen as a preliminary step for Turkey’s next election, the first in line being the 2014 presidential elections.
Turkish expats’ votes are not insignificant. Muhammet Bilal Macit from the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) was elected to Parliament in the general elections in 2011 thanks to Turkish expats who voted at customs gates. Without these votes the party would have lost that seat to the MHP. The AK Party received 62 percent of the votes cast at customs gates, while 26.4 percent went to the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and 8 percent were for the MHP.
With the new bill, expected to come before Parliament by May, expats’ votes will gain importance for political parties in Turkey, assuming most expats choose to cast their ballots in Turkish elections. The number of Turkish expats who voted at customs gates in the last general elections was only 129,283. But the total number of Turkish voters abroad is 2,568,979 -- 5 percent of the total electorate in Turkey, as noted in the bill adopted by the Constitutional Commission.
But Dr. Can Ünver, head of the Emigration Research Center at the Turkish Center for International Relations and Strategic Analysis (TÜRKSAM) finds this figure of total voters a little exaggerated. Speaking to Sunday’s Zaman, Ünver stated that the number of Turkish voters abroad is around 1.2 million, out of nearly 6 million Turkish emigrants around the world, noting that some of them have adopted citizenships from the country where they reside.
In any case, Turkish political leaders seem likely to tour Europe, where most Turkish expats live, when the election period gets close. In Germany there are nearly 3 million Turkish citizens; in France and the Netherlands the figure is about 400,000; Austria has 250,000; and Belgium and Great Britain have around 150,000 Turkish emigrants.
With the new system, voting for Turks living abroad will begin 45 days before election day in Turkey and it will be completed seven days before the election. Each voter will be given a date to visit the relevant diplomatic mission in an effort to avoid large crowds. Voter registration will be provided according to each expat’s Turkish ID number.
The bill, prepared by the government in cooperation with the Supreme Election Board (YSK), was submitted to Parliament in January to address difficulties experienced by Turkish expatriates in casting their votes abroad. Before every national election, Turks living abroad used to come to the country to vote, or vote at the airport. Turks in neighboring countries would come to border gates to cast their votes. Many expats had neither the means nor the time to make such a trip.
A look at modern democracies all over the world -- with a focus on the EU -- shows that many countries set up special ballot boxes at their diplomatic missions for citizens living abroad, while others allow votes to be cast by mail. For instance, in both Switzerland and Estonia, citizens can vote over the Internet. US citizens living abroad may submit absentee ballots for elections with options as varied as regular mail, fax or online.