Nightmare awaiting Turkish diplomats in presidential elections

Nightmare awaiting Turkish diplomats in presidential elections

All public officials working abroad have been instructed not to leave their posts starting from July 20 until the end of August. This is a first and it’s only natural since it is the first time Turks living abroad will be able cast their votes for elections held in Turkey.

Turkish officials on duty abroad have already lost sleep, not only because they want to pass this first test without any problems, but also due to the fact that if there is a neck-and-neck race in the presidential elections, all of the projectors can turn to votes outside Turkey, as the millions of votes cast abroad might make a crucial difference. The estimations of Turks eligible to vote vary between 2.6 and 2.8 million.

There are complaints that not enough time was used for preparations. “The first we received any information was last January during the annual meeting for ambassadors,” one told me. “Some of the issues were only clarified two weeks ago,” another said to me.

Embassies or consulates with smaller “constituencies,” will have the ballot boxes in their own buildings. Those with bigger ones have first chosen several alternatives, such as schools or sports facilities. The High Election Board (YSK) made the final decision as to the location. Some citizens have been complaining that some of the chosen locations are far away from where Turks live in general.

But the real challenge seems to be concerning registration and timing of the actual vote.

“Turks living abroad are normally registered to embassies and consulates. But some of them left their addresses just for the purpose of communication, while on the official records in Turkey, their place of residence appear not as an address abroad, but as the information they have on their Turkish identity cards, so they have to make sure to officially register their place of residence. Some are still unaware of that,” a diplomat on duty in a European city told me.

Turkish diplomats have been trying to communicate all of the necessary information via mosques, nongovernmental organizations’ and social media outlets, like Facebook and Twitter. The registration period ended yesterday.

The acute concern now is about the timing of the vote. Turks abroad will have four days to vote. But the YSK told them to make an appointment via the Internet. If not, the YSK will designate a date for each voter. Turkish officials are worried some may not be aware of this requirement and will end up at their doors to cast their votes on the wrong day. “If they end up at our doors on the wrong day, they might insist on casting their votes, saying this is their constitutional right. We will be the ones giving them the bad news that they can’t. And that could be problematic,” I was told. The diplomats’ request to the YSK that citizens should be left free when to use their vote was turned down, arguing that the appointment system was done in order to prevent excessive accumulation at the voting locations.

Meanwhile, of the four days designated to vote, between July 31 and Aug. 3, two are working days. Some of those whose appointments were scheduled by the YSK, might end up not going if it coincides with their working day. And let’s not forget: some will have to travel 200-300 km to their nearest voting location.

Turkish citizens abroad have between July 21-25 to pick their day of voting via the Internet. Some of them are not familiar with the Internet. That will constitute a challenge. It seems that some of the associations have asked their members to reach out to them in order to take the appointments and they also pledged to arrange for transportation for those who will get the same date to vote. So certain associations can truly mobilize their members and we’ll see for which candidate this will make a difference.

As some embassies and consulates will run short of the necessary personnel for each ballot box board, which needs to have at least two public officials, they will resort to help from teachers, officials from Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), as well as semipublic institutions, like Ziraat Bank and Turkish Airlines. And the three political parties that received the highest votes during the last elections have been tasked to send their representatives to each ballot box.

As the elections coincide with vacations, there is an expectation that an important number of Turks living abroad will use their votes in the airports, as they usually choose to spend their holidays in Turkey. While this expectation soothes some of the concerns, this experience is going to be truly challenging for the diplomats. One positive point they all underline is that at least they will acquire experience ahead of next year’s general elections, which will be much more complicated than the presidential ones.