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Turkish expats vote in key election

For Turkish expats, voting is already under way at polling stations set up at airport custom gates. But some complain the system makes it difficult for those living abroad to exercise their right to vote.
Last modified: 9 Jun 2011 04:37
Photo by Ayse Alibeyoglu

Awash with colourful campaign posters, banners and streamers, election fever has well and truly gripped Turkey.

However, in a decision that greatly upset Turks in many countries, the Supreme Election Board (YSK) announced last year that Turkish citizens residing abroad could only vote in the June 12 parliamentary election at customs gates.

Only 196,000 voters residing abroad, out of at least 2.5 million eligible expat voters, cast their ballots in the September 12, 2010, constitutional referendum.

According to officials from YSK, a number of polling stations in various airports across Turkey have been approved for expatriate voting. The customs facilities at Istanbul's Ataturk airport is one of them.    

I watched as a Turkish-born resident of Germany placed a sealed yellow envelope carefully into the ballot box.

YSK officials then ushered her to the end of the table where she received a stamp in her passport, signifying that her vote had been cast. 

"I came all this way to vote for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, (leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP), as a thank you for putting Turkey back on the map with a stronger, brighter economy than ever before," said the expatriate lawyer, who has been living in Berlin for a year and who preferred to remain anonymous.

"The YSK has restricted voters’ basic right of citizenship. Having to leave your country of residence to vote is logistically difficult for most people. It's shameful that we have been reduced to voting at customs gates."

Despite the hurdles faced by some, there's something extraordinary about tens of millions of people coming together and deciding who should run their country.

Eser, a taxi driver and staunch supporter of Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People's Party (CHP), who declined to give his full name, alleges the polling booths inside the airports work in Erdogan's favour.

"Citizens are brought from the outside so they could cast their vote for the AKP and tip the balance but no one is reporting this. Journalists are too scared to look into this. I do not trust those poll workers," he said.

Everyone in Turkey has an opinion and is not afraid to share it.

An exhilarating and impromptu debate ensued among a group of university students who had taken refuge under the shade of a large banner of Erdogan, to escape the searing hot Istanbul sun, with several students switching sides.

There is a palpable sense of excitement in the air among voters and it is likely to reach a crescendo on Sunday.