Turkish State Minister Faruk Çelik has said his government asked for Germany’s assistance in setting up voting booths at embassies and consulates there, adding that he hopes to get positive a response from German officials within days. “My impression is that the German government is warm to the idea, and I am hopeful,” he said to a group of reporters aboard a plane traveling from Ankara to Sudan.
According to government estimates, there are about 2.5 million Turkish expatriates who are eligible to cast a vote in elections, and 60 percent of them reside in Germany. “If German officials reject our proposals, then it would not make any sense to go on allowing other expats to cast a vote simply because of the disenfranchisement of a large bloc in Germany,” Çelik underlined. In the past, the German government has refused Turkish requests to set up polling stations across the country in Turkish consulates, citing security concerns.
Çelik is the state minister responsible for Turks living in other countries and is in charge of a new agency set up to deal exclusively with the problems of Turks living abroad. Emphasizing that he understands concerns for security raised by German officials regarding voting in venues such as large sports facilities, Çelik said the same argument can’t be applied to consulates and embassies because they are already heavily protected.
Currently, Turkish citizens living abroad have to travel to a Turkish border 90 days before an election and cast their vote at customs checkpoints, rather than being able to vote at their embassies or consulates, as citizens of many other countries can. A government bill allowing expats to vote via postal mail was approved in Parliament in 2008 but was cancelled by the Constitutional Court after the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) petitioned the court. Çelik also said the best solution for expat Turks would be to cast absentee votes via the mail. “But the court overturned that decision by Parliament, and we don’t have that option now,” he explained. Çelik then suggested the idea of electronic voting but warned that there might be security issues concerning the programs and that it might be challenged in court. “But I believe it should be explored further and studied with regard to effectiveness in security,” he added.
Obstacles to voting from abroad prevented millions of Turks from casting their votes in the last public referendum, held on Sept. 12. Of the 2.5 million voters registered to vote abroad, only 196,000 actually voted. Many faced great difficulties and had to lose much time and money taking buses and planes to travel all the way to the Turkish border simply to cast their votes. It is estimated that European Turks could put as many as 24 deputies in the Turkish Parliament if they were allowed to vote at embassies and consulates.