Some 3.4 million Turkish citizens living abroad have begun in national elections that will decide whether President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will continue governing Turkey after two decades in power.
The overseas balloting began on Thursday amid concerns about Erdogan’s health after he was forced to cancel election rallies on Wednesday and Thursday.
However, the 69-year-old leader was scheduled to attend a Thursday ceremony via video link to mark the inauguration of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant. Turkey’s health minister also said Erdogan’s condition was improving.
“I was with him this morning. His health is fine,” Fahrettin Koca, a physician by training, said Thursday. “The effect of his gastrointestinal infection has decreased. He will continue his schedule.”
The biggest contingents of overseas voters include 400,000 Turks in France and 1.5 million in Germany who can cast their ballots in Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections until May 9. Voting in Turkey itself does not take place until May 14.
The latest opinion polls in Turkey showed a slight lead for Erdogan’s main challenger, centre-left opposition party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who is backed by the cross-party Millet İttifakı (Nation Alliance).
Erdogan served as Turkey’s prime minister from March 2003 to August 2014 and has held the president’s office since then. He has been criticized for his increasingly authoritarian rule and handling of the economy and rampant inflation in recent years, as well as that of the devastating earthquake that hit Turkey in February.
In Berlin, voter Fatma, who declined to provide her surname, said she backed the current president.
“Erdogan is strong. We are behind him,” she told The Associated Press news agency.
Her comments were echoed by 39-year-old Ozlem Dinc in Paris, who expressed full support for Erdogan.
“We hope from the bottom of our hearts that he will come to power again and that he will conquer the whole world,” she said.
Others were critical of the long-time president and the changes he has made to Turkey’s political system.
“We have to change the president first and then the system,” said voter Sema Jude in Paris. “The presidential system in Turkey is not democratic and it is like a dictatorship.”
Cinar Negatir agreed, though for other reasons. “Yes for a change of president, because economy is at zero percent,” he said. “That’s why we vote to change the president.”
Up to 300 people lined up outside the Turkish General Consulate in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt waiting to vote. The atmosphere was calm with supporters of the president and of the opposition discussing their views in line.
A second round between two top presidential contenders will take place on May 28 unless the May 14 poll produces a clear winner with more than 50 percent of votes. In case of the vote going to a run-off, overseas balloting would take place May 20-24.