July 31, 2014

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turks living abroad began voting Thursday to choose Turkey’s first directly elected president. It is also the first time expatriate Turks are voting in their countries of residence for Turkish elections.

Close to 2.8 million expatriate Turks in 54 countries — about half of them in Germany — are eligible to vote. Only about 250,000 of them however, have registered to vote, according to Turkey’s High Election Board. Polls opened in Germany and several other countries on Thursday.

In Berlin, hundreds of Turks went to a polling station inside the city’s Olympic stadium to vote. A large Turkish flag was put up over the door. “I think it is a great thing for us Turks that we can also vote,” said Duygu Yapar, a 23-year-old woman from Berlin.

Many of those holding Turkish passports in Germany are the children or grandchildren of immigrants and have never lived in Turkey. Seven polling stations were set up across the country. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the strongest contender in the elections to be held in Turkey on Aug. 10. The former head of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, and Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas are also running.

Previously, parliament elected the president, a largely symbolic post. But Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for more than a decade, has suggested that he could rule with almost as much authority as the prime minister by activating latent presidential powers, including the right to call Cabinet meetings.

A Pew Research Center poll published Wednesday found Turks are evenly split on how they feel about Erdogan, with 48 percent saying he has a good influence on the country and the same percentage saying he has a bad one. The survey polled 1,001 people from April 11-May 16 and has a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

Erdogan’s party won around 43 percent of the votes in local elections in March, despite a government corruption scandal and last year’s crackdown on anti-government protests. If no candidate wins a majority of votes in the first round, a run-off will be held on Aug 24.

Markus Schreiber in Berlin contributed to this report.