How about having an MP representing Turks in Europe?

How about having an MP representing Turks in Europe?

It is no secret that the low voter turnout in the August presidential elections among voters abroad caught the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) by surprise, and proved to be a disappointment.

A study conducted under the leadership of a prominent academic, Nermin Abadan-Unat, a professor at Boğaziçi University, provides potential explanations for the low turnout.

Unat, a political scientist and researcher on migration movements to Europe since 1963, focused on Germany, where the largest Turkish community lives.

As Unat and her team were able to secure only a small amount of financial support from German think tank the Friedrich Ebernt Stiftung, she underlined that this was an exploratory case-study and only aimed to generate hypotheses for further research on external voting.

The study came up with potential problems that caused the low turnout. Half of these were related to logistical issues - such as difficulties pertaining to the need to be registered, difficulties experienced with the online appointment system to vote, and the timing of the election coinciding with the holiday season. These problems could be quickly solved; indeed, the appointment system was canceled because it was seen as the major reason for the low turnout.

One of the other problems cited in the study, which could easily be fixed, but has still not been addressed so far, is the lack of trust in the counting system. The decision to transport the votes to Turkey in order to be counted on the evening of the election seems to have created serious uneasiness among Turks in Germany.

The last problem underlined by the study, however, pertains to a more sociological-political issue: The disconnect between the external voters’ day-to-day problems and politics in Turkey.

“Political parties and politicians from Turkey are not seen as responsive to issues pertaining to education, integration and racism,” stated the study.

The study identified that while the first and second generations of Turks in Europe follow politics in Turkey on a daily basis, the third and fourth generations are less likely to be very interested. In other words, in order to mobilize support among younger generations, Turkish politicians need to be more sensitive to issues like education, integration and racism. However, when Turkish politicians go to talk in Germany, their approach is often ethnocentric. Here is an excerpt from the report on the issue of education:

“Religiously oriented parties criticize the presumably Christian-bias of the German education system, whereas secular parties claim that the lack of enlightened-interest among the immigrant population causes the failure of the Turkish youth in education. Similarly, the demands of the Turkish immigrant community for the recognition of Turkish as an official secondary language in schools is given an anti-assimilationist turn by the Turkish politicians: Turkish politicians argue that Turkish language education is necessary to preserve the Turkish culture, whereas Turkish-immigrant community demands the same in order to realize equal opportunity in education, and later in the job market.”

Like in the education issue, Turkish politicians’ rather narrow approach to problems that deal with the larger issue of integration and racism, contributes to the problem of disconnect.

This problem could be addressed by providing representation to external voters in general elections, according to the study; there could be one or two members of Parliament elected by voters abroad to represent non-resident citizens in Parliament.

As of today, this sounds ideal, because what motivates the AKP to enable voting abroad is not a desire to address the problems of Turks living abroad. It is motivated to enable voting abroad because these votes constitute numbers that will add to the final election outcome.

Some may argue that this is, in the end of the day, what all political parties are after. This may be so. Indeed, the AKP is well-placed to increase its voter base among Turks living abroad, because under its rule there has been a higher awareness of their presence. It is no secret that Turks abroad are much better treated by Turkish consular offices today than in the past. For the less educated and less integrated, these were reasons enough to vote for the ruling party’s candidate, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as according to the study, the more educated are less likely to vote for the AKP. It is also no coincidence that Turkish women moving to Germany by means of arranged marriages, who are often living in very conservative and highly cloistered communities, also overwhelmingly voted for Erdoğan.

So, why bother with deeper and real issues?