SPD's Turkish vice chairman: Immigrants must get more involved in German politics

Aydan Özoğuz (Photo: AA)

December 06, 2011, Tuesday/ 17:06:00

Aydan Özoğuz, a German politician of Turkish origin who was recently elected as a vice chairman of Germany's main opposition party, has said immigrants to Germany should get more involved in German politics.

In an exclusive interview with Today's Zaman, Social Democratic Party (SPD) Vice Chairman Özoğuz said his party will seek solutions on the basis of problems, not on the basis of whether people are ethnically German or not. According to Özoğuz, those with an immigrant background must follow German politics more closely and become citizens and voters.

“They shouldn't neglect this. They should follow German politics, watch German political shows on TV and become voters. They should be citizens to earn the right to vote in Germany. Some of them already do it, but it's not enough,” he said, adding that young members of immigrant families must get accustomed to German politics in this way.

Speaking to reporters after being elected, Özoğuz said he will seek a solution to end immigrants' problems related integration. "My primary target is to get over this integration problem. As I do now, I want to work on the reasons why the youth [of immigrant origins] cannot be successful in this education system," he said and expressed his faith in the new party board to deal with the problems of all citizens, regardless of their ethnic background.

Özoğuz has become the first non-German elected vice chairman in the history of the party. He received a total of 427 votes from 494 delegates, or 86 percent support. Another vice chairman of the party, Olaf Scholz, who invited Özoğuz to the party in 2001, said he was glad about the election of the German-Turkish politician. While noting that Özoğuz is a smart and promising politician who reached his current position through much effort, Scholz said he is a proof of what Germany gains through immigrants.

In addition to Özoğuz, two other German politicians of Turkish descent, Zülfiye Kaykın and Alptekin Kırcı, were also elected to the 35-member board of the party.

Sigmar Gabriel was elected for his second term as the party's leader. With a vote of nearly 92 percent, 52-year-old Gabriel returned to office Monday. He was first elected to the Social Democratic post in 2009. Gabriel told party members at a conference Monday that the SPD will campaign for a ruling coalition with the Greens.

Addressing his party's members, Gabriel said they have restored the hope and pride of the SPD. He said his party does not want a market-based democracy but a democracy-based market. He also recalled that this party was successful in past state elections and that six state prime ministers were elected from the SPD.

The SPD received a blow in the 2009 national elections, garnering 23.3 percent of the vote -- the lowest score for the party in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany. The result meant not only being the opposition party but was also a sign of the need for restructuring. Following the elections in September 2009, party delegates elected a brand new board in Dresden. Famous for changing party leaders and general secretaries, the SPD elected its new leader, Gabriel, and new secretary general, Andrea Nahles. Ensuring a balanced representation of gender in the managing board, the party also vied for representation of immigrants. The SPD, the party that cares most about the votes of people on an immigrant background, did not have members of immigrant origins on the board. In the past two years, Chairman Gabriel has often voiced concern over the lack of politicians of immigrant origins in party management. The election of Özoğuz as a vice chairman is seen as proof of Gabriel's efforts in this regard, and Özoğuz is also considered to be the right name for the SPD.

The recent party congress also served as a time to prepare for the national elections in 2013, and the election of Turkish politicians to the board is considered an important development as the SPD wants to regain the votes of Germans of Turkish origin who had supported the party in earlier elections.

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