Can Europe Make It?

German election: don't forget the Turkish vote(s)!

There are about 3 million German Turks living in Germany. Where does the country's largest immigrant group stand in the upcoming German election?

Catherine Stupp
17 September 2013
Wikimedia Commons/Immanuel Giel. Some rights reserved.

Wikimedia Commons/Immanuel Giel. Some rights reserved.

The German daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported last week that the Turkish Community in Germany had released a few videos urging Turkish-Germans to vote in the upcoming parliamentary election. The organisation which represents the country's largest immigrant group, recently updated its website with reminders about the September 22 election. Kenan Kolat, head of the Turkish Community in Germany, has been vocal this summer about the importance of Turkish-German voters. But while there are about 3 million German Turks in Germany, somewhat less than one million of these are German citizens with the right to vote. Which means the potential impact of this voting block is not huge, but sizeable enough to make a difference in a race that could be tight.

While the Turkish Community in Germany has refrained from expressing support for any chancellor candidate or party, Kolat has spoken positively in interviews about the Green Party and Angela Merkel's centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU). The Social Democratic Party (SPD), traditionally the main opponent to the CDU, has lost many of its Turkish-German supporters since the last election in 2009 although many used to support the SPD, as the magazine Der Spiegel reported in August. The reason for this development, the Spiegel suggested, is a controversial book released in 2010 by high-profile former SPD politician Thilo Sarrazin, which used racist stereotypes to argue that immigration has had largely negative effects for German society.

Sarrazin is widely disliked, especially in parts of multiethnic Berlin and among left-leaning voters, yet his affiliation with the SPD alone seems too tenuous and his most controversial book too long ago to account for the larger loss of voter interest in the party. Given Angela Merkel's current popularity among voters, it's possible that many former SPD supporters - including some Turkish-Germans - are simply unwilling to vote for a change in government. Whatever the reason for the shift among Turkish-German voters, there are now elected officials with Turkish roots representing various political parties. As the political diversity of Turkish-Germans shows, the interests of this demographic are no longer concentrated in any one party.

In Berlin, like in the rest of Germany, campaign posters decorate streets with names and pictures of parliamentary candidates, and multiple parties use these to advertise their candidates with Turkish roots. According to media reports, the Green Party has more candidates in the current election with some immigrant background than any other party. The highest-profile Turkish-German politician, Green Party co-chair Cem Özdemir, is one of the party's most prominent leaders. Kolat's complimentary statements about the Greens reflect the party's growing support base among Turkish-German voters, but the lack of statistics makes it hard to tell how much this support has grown.

As part of its campaign to get out the vote, the Turkish Community in Germany sent out questionnaires to candidates from six parties that are currently in parliament, as well as to the smaller, foundering Pirate Party. The results, which are published on the organisation's website, show the candidates' views on a number of topics that the Turkish Community considers particularly relevant to its members, including measures against institutional racism, Turkey's still pending bid for EU membership, dual citizenship, job opportunities for minorities and care for senior citizens who emigrated to Germany. While the broader European topic of economic crisis management looms large in much international media coverage of Angela Merkel's likely reelection and the SPD's faltering attempt to knock her party out of power, the Turkish Community in Germany's questionnaire asserts some other social issues that may concern at least this smaller voting block.

As noted elsewhere, the outcome of the German election will have consequences for many residents of other European countries who aren't able to vote in Germany. Within Germany, people who don't have the right to vote also have much at stake in this election. As one of the Turkish Community in Germany's election videos argue, some residents of Germany are excluded from voting because they are not German citizens, despite having lived here for decades. Those who are able should make sure to vote, the video argues, to make sure that Turkish-Germans who are not able have their interests represented. High voter participation among Turkish-Germans may not add up to many more votes for any party in particular, but new awareness about the Turkish-German vote might mean that increased attention is given to social issues, especially those that affect minority groups in Germany.

Are you currently living in Germany or a passionate observer of German politics? We'd very interested in publishing your thoughts  - do drop us a line at europe (at) opendemocracy.net!

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