The images are similar in Germany, France, Austria and Scandinavia: people are crowding in front of the Turkish consulates, the queues are several hundred meters long. Many undertake the journey of hundreds of kilometers to make a political statement at home or in the country of their ancestors.
Erdogan and his AKP don’t want to leave anything to chance in the run-off election either – the 2023 election campaign is still different from the campaigns in previous elections. In Türkiye, the election was close for the incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He landed below the 50 percent threshold and has to face a runoff against opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu next Sunday. In contrast, Erdogan’s lead over the opposition remained large among Turkish citizens in Europe: in Germany, he received just over 65 percent of the votes cast – but only slightly less than half of the 1.5 million eligible voters took part in the election. The numbers in Austria were more striking: 77 percent of the votes went to him.
In previous election campaigns in Europe, Erdogan has relied on the publicity bang: large halls in major cities, often more than 20,000 flag-waving visitors, pithy anti-Western rhetoric on the stage. This time around, the battle for votes is taking place under the radar.
This also has to do with a changed attitude on the part of the authorities, who have learned from the past heated Turkish election campaigns. Appearances by foreign officials and elected representatives in Germany must be officially registered six months before the election date. In 2017, the government there decided that election campaign appearances by foreign politicians from non-EU countries are even forbidden three months before elections or votes in their respective countries.
However, these requirements are undermined with a new tactic. The mobilization of the AKP in Western Europe began already last year. Well over 400 AKP deputies were out and about campaigning in the streets, going from door to door, without large hall events. They usually received the addresses for these visits from the Turkish mosque communities, which again offered to activate the drum for the nationalist AKP at an early stage. Associations such as the Turkish-Islamic Union of the Institute for Religion (Ditib) or the Islamic Community Millî Görüş (IGMG) with its extensive network of communities in Germany. They often act like AKP branches, as an extended arm of the Turkish state. The AKP lobby organizations rented buses again for the run-off elections, primarily to pick up people from the mosque communities and take them to the consulates. There was a party atmosphere on board, in between it was repeatedly pointed out where the cross should be made.
The fact that Erdogan’s popularity in Europe is unbroken despite his authoritarian style of government, despite restrictions on freedom of the press and freedom of expression, a worsening economic situation and galloping inflation in Türkiye, raises questions as to why. Most people of Turkish origin are not directly affected by the consequences of Turkish politics. “We actually seem to be more interested among Erdogan supporters, and the credo seems to apply here above all: in good times and in bad times.” The result could be different in the current situation in which Türkiye is not explain.
Some people from Türkiye have been living abroad for more than 60 years – but without citizenship there they cannot even have a say at the municipal level. On the other hand, people from other EU countries who have come to an EU country for the same reasons can vote. This is unequal treatment that needs to be remedied.
So it’s about political disenfranchisement and the feeling of being excluded. Attacks, everyday racism characterize the everyday life of many Turks living in Europe. Erdogan uses what people experience every day to present himself as a caretaker. The European parties are therefore challenged to meet people’s needs and take up the cause of their concerns and demands. Politicians in Europe have certainly missed something here. On the one hand, societies have done too little to ensure that Turkish migrants and their descendants can feel at home in the EU. On the other hand, the branches of Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkish mosques and cultural institutions have been able to operate freely for too long.
German MP Serap Güler, whose parents came to Germany from Türkiye as guest workers, sees other problems. Those in Germany who voted for Erdogan again are hard core. “In absolute numbers we are talking about over 490,000 people here, it was the same in the last election. We are definitely not satisfied that people who live in freedom with us support a president with autocratic traits.”
You have to continue to advertise for these people, but it won’t be easy. “I think most of them actually lack an awareness of the wrong that Erdogan’s policies are restricting the rights and freedoms of those who think differently. We can only rely on political education here, but we still won’t reach the majority of the people,” says Güler.
In addition, according to the analysis of many scientists, the voting of those of Turkish origin cannot be viewed in isolation: There is a shift to the right and autocracy-friendliness throughout the EU – see AfD in Germany, FPÖ in Austria, the Sweden Democrats, the Orban autocracy in Hungary.
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