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Migrant voters become focal point of German elections

BERLIN - Hürriyet Daily News | 9/22/2009 12:00:00 AM | DÖNDÜ SARIIŞIK

The influence of “dark-haired voters” in German politics will be stronger than ever as Sunday’s elections will likely result in a narrow victory, migrant representatives suggest.

The influence of migrant voters in German politics will be stronger than ever as Sunday’s elections will likely result in a narrow victory, migrant representatives suggest.

Germany is counting down to the election of its federal parliament, called the Bundestag, on Sunday while political parties have sped up their campaigns to gain undecided voters. “German politicians, for the first time in history, are campaigning in an effort to gain migrants’ votes, or at least, not to alienate them. It is remarkable that they don’t play on Turkey’s EU membership bid or integration problems," Özcan Mutlu, a candidate for Berlin from the Green Party, told Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

Of the two partners of Germany’s grand coalition – Chancellor Angela Merkel and her challenger Frank-Walter Steinmeier – neither has seemed to pull off a decisive win. "A narrow election victory is expected so they don’t want to anger the Turkish community,” Mutlu said. “This time, almost all the parties included Turkish names in their list.”

Christian Democrats Union, or CDU, leader Merkel wants to create a center-right coalition with the liberal, business-friendly Free Democrats, or FDP, while Social Democrat Party, or SDP, leader Steinmeier seeks an option with the Green Party. Although the Left Party has attracted a significant chunk of voters away from the SDP in recent years, it will likely stay at the opposition due to its radical line.

“The dark-haired voters will show themselves. The Turkish community is the majority of the up to 5 million migrants in Germany, and it is a great chance to voice their basic demands related to integration,” said Safter Çınar, spokesman for the Turkish Association in Berlin.

Following a roundtable meeting with representatives from five political parties, Çınar sounded doubtful about a “pro-immigrant shift” in German politics. “There is no evolution in their minds. For example, the CDU firmly rejects our main demands, such as double citizenship and local election rights for long-term residents,” he said. “They are also not supportive of mother-tongue education rights.”

Approximately 700,000 to 800,000 Turkish-origin voters are expected to cast their ballots and a number of Turkish politicians from different parties have been running in the elections, which is scheduled for Sept. 27.

“I believe that the Turkish community is excited for the elections as they had to struggle to gain this right," Mutlu said.

“Socialists grow stronger as migrants gain ground,” said Bekir Alboğa of the Turkish Islamic Union, or DİTİB, in Cologne.

Lale Akgün, whose family moved to Germany when she was 9, is running for the SDP in Cologne and called on the people to “use this historic chance to shape the future.” In a phone interview with the Daily News, Akgün said: “Merkel has introduced regulations to make a family union difficult. Without paying attention to the basic problems of migrants, a number of summits and roundtable meetings took place to deceive us. She will go further if she wins.

“Looking at the commitments in party programs, I feel the migrants have started to have more of an influence. I think they will either go with the Greens or the SDP,” Akgün said, adding that the Left Party could not become a coalition partner due to its radical line.

Sevim Dağdelen is another German politician of Turkish origin but says she finds that description “discriminatory.” “The Left Party is the only option for migrant rights because the Greens and the SDP are out of the question after their failure in the past,” Dağdelen told the Daily News. “People are looking for alternatives after being disappointed with the SDP and the Greens, who did not keep their promises.”

Calling on migrants to cast their ballots, Dağdelen said, “It is only way to prevent conservatives from getting stronger.”

Aydan Özoğuz is a veteran Turkish-origin politician and has been campaigning for the SDP in Hamburg. Özoğuz is hopeful for the election with increasing support as the day gets nearer. He defends the SDP, saying the party proved their capacity through the financial crisis. “The ministers of finance and labor have performed with remarkable success during the time of crisis. They are both from the SDP. Also, traditionally the SDP gains more votes toward election day,” she told the Daily News.

Confirming that migrant voters have become more effective during this election, she said: “The SDP, Greens and even liberal Free Democrats have been paying more attention to migrant-related issues. We are rethinking double citizenship, for example. We are also defending that long-time residents can vote in the local elections even if they are not citizens.”

Some 80 out of 100 Turkish-origin deputies in both the federal and state-level parliaments have set up a network to voice migrant-related problems, although they are members of different political parties. Their next appointment is with President Horst Koehler in October.

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