AKP will focus on the votes of Turks abroad

AKP will focus on the votes of Turks abroad

We keep complaining about the rise and intensity of polarization in Turkey. 

Indeed, the polarization was especially fueled by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during the years he served as prime minister. It suited his political interests as it consolidated his Justice and Development Party (AKP) constituency. Other political leaders followed suit but kept falling into his trap, as polarization works better for the AKP than for opposition parties.

Polarization affects our lives so much that it even influences our choices for the products we consume. In other words, one out of every three Turks says they avoid buying a product he/she believes is produced by a company close to the government or the opposition.

Thank God, polarization has not reached the level of violence. Nowhere have we seen this fact better than in the two consecutive elections we have recently had. Representatives of the political parties worked side by side at the ballot boxes in both the local and presidential elections. 

It seems that the same phenomenon was witnessed abroad, where expatriate Turks were able to vote for the first time. “In most places, the representatives of the Nationalist Movement Party and the [pro-Kurdish] Peoples’ Democratic Party [HDP] even enjoyed each other's company,” one Turkish diplomat told me.

“There used to be a lot of tension in the past. It seems the peace process has affected relations between different communities in Europe as well,” another said.

While measures were taken by Turkish missions abroad to have a smooth voting process, the low turnout (just 8.32 percent) came as a shock.

There are several reasons to explain the low turnout.

First of all, a lot of Turks living in Europe were in Turkey for holidays. But for those remaining in their country of residence, the appointment system stands out as the main technical reason that led to the low turnout. Not only did setting an appointment date through the Internet prove difficult for some, but for others the dates given to them did not suit their schedules.

Therefore, not only will the Supreme Board of Elections have to give up the appointment system, it should also set a longer time of at least a week or two, (more than the current four days), to enable the electorate abroad to make time to go to the ballot box.

However, technical issues are not enough to explain such a low turnout. There are also certain political, as well as sociological, reasons that can explain the situation.

Just as in Turkey, there was perhaps the sense abroad that this was not going to be a head-to-head race and the result was known in advance. This might have affected both the pro-government electorate who said, “Erdoğan does not need our votes; he will win anyway,” and opposition supporters who said, “No matter what we do, Erdoğan will win anyway.”

When it comes to researcher Kerem Öktem’s argument that Turks are not that interested in Turkish politics, among those who worked in the field some agree some disagree. Among those who disagree, they give the example that while on the Sunday - the final day to vote - only a few showed up to vote at the consulates, on the Monday triple that number voted while also handling their other consular business. 

Obviously, the situation differs from one country to the other. In Holland, for instance, there is the possibility that the turnout could also be low for the general elections in June, since Turks participation in Dutch elections is only around 10-15 percent. It is this low despite the fact that several Turkish origin candidates run in those elections.

Yet I have also heard others saying “expat” Turks are highly interested in Turkish politics, so when comes to June they will flock to the ballot boxes provided the technical difficulties are alleviated.

What is certain is this: The AKP wants to secure a majority in order to change the system into a presidential system. Votes abroad could make a difference. Therefore, I would not be surprised to see not only the AKP’s, but also the state’s relevant institutions, working actively over the course of the next 10 months to mobilize the overseas electorate.