Polling stations opened Thursday in Germany for the roughly 1.5 million registered Turkish voters living in the European country, the largest diaspora participating in Turkey’s most pivotal election in decades, Agence France-Presse reported.
Turkish citizens living in Germany, many of them the descendants of “guest workers” invited under a massive economic program in the 1960s and 70s, have until May 9 to cast ballots at 26 centers across the country, the Supreme Board of Election (YSK) said.
Polls ahead of the May 14 parliamentary and presidential vote show President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan running neck-and-neck or behind opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
Erdoğan, 69, is confronting public anger over a raging economic crisis and the government’s delayed response to two powerful earthquakes in February in which more than 50,000 died.
Meanwhile inflation in the country is running at 50.5 percent and the currency is in freefall, making the cost of living hard to bear for most Turks.
Many Turkish voters turning out in Germany said the time had come for new leadership.
“I am here because Turkey is in a quite terrible situation right now. The economy is terrible, terrorism is the same,” Kutay Yılmaz, 29, said at a Berlin polling station.
“I want to return (to Turkey) one day. That’s why I came here today and voted. I want the leader to change.”
Nihan Kol, a 30-year-old accountant who has lived in Germany since 2017, also said she was looking for a “change for the better” in Turkey.
“So many terrible things have happened in recent years but the earthquake was a real catastrophe. I think the earthquake will play a critical role in the results,” Kol said.
However, Mehmet Yaşar Çakır, 67, said he was “not unsatisfied” with Erdoğan and noted the veteran leader had also chalked up successes while in power.
“It’s not 100 percent good or bad — of course there are good things that he did, for example in the social welfare system which is highly developed in Turkey,” he said.
A spokesman for the Turkish Community of Germany (TSD) told AFP the election was a “huge issue” for both Turkish citizens and German nationals of Turkish origin and expected a high turnout.
The last Turkish national elections saw about 50 percent participation among eligible voters in Germany, with support higher for Erdogan than in Turkey itself according to exit polls.