Some 3.4 million Turkish citizens living abroad were invited to begin voting Thursday in national elections that will decide whether President Recep Tayyip Erdogan can continue governing Turkey after two decades in power.
The overseas balloting began amid concerns over 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.
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 doesn’t take place until May 14.
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During Turkey’s last presidential election five years ago, a significant majority of Turkish voters in Germany backed Erdogan. It is unclear whether he will receive the same level of backing from them this year.
The latest opinion polls in Turkey showed a slight lead for Erdogan’s main challenger, center-left opposition party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who is backed by the cross-party Nation Alliance.
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If no candidate wins outright and a presidential run-off is needed on May 28, overseas balloting would take place May 20-24.
Erdogan served as Turkey’s prime minister from March 2003 to August 2014 and has held the president’s office since then. He has received criticism for his increasingly authoritarian rule and handling of the economy and rampant inflation in recent years, as well as of the devastating earthquake that hit Turkey in February.
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Germany’s agriculture minister, Cem Ozdemir, who has family roots in Turkey, told the RND media group that a victory for Kilicdaroglu “would pave the way for a return to democracy” in Turkey.