Diaspora Turks Start Voting for Presidential, Parliamentary Elections

Turkish citizens in Germany are the largest group of the 3 million voters registered outside the country - 5 percent of the total electorate - who largely backed Erdogan in 2017 referendum

Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan wave Turkish flags during a pro-government protest in Cologne, Germany July 31, 2016

Some 1.44 million Turkish citizens living in Germany are eligible to start voting in Turkey's presidential and parliamentary elections from Thursday. They represent the largest group of the 3.05 million voters registered outside the country, which is 5 percent of the total electorate.

The second-largest group of Turkish voters abroad is in France (341,000), followed by the Netherlands (260,000) and Belgium (142,000). Austria has 107,000 Turkish voters. Northern Cyprus, which is recognized only by Turkey, has 106,000 voters, while the United States has 106,000 and Switzerland 99,000.

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Along with their compatriots in Austria and France, Turks in Germany may vote any time between Thursday and June 19 at a series of polling stations across the country. They are the first of 59.33 million eligible voters to cast their ballots for Turkey's presidential and parliamentary elections.

Relations have been strained between Turkey and Germany after Berlin imposed a ban on Turkish politicians campaigning for votes in a controversial constitutional referendum last year that handed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers.

The ban on campaigning was extended to this snap election, which Erdogan called for June 24. "My brothers in the West, voting starts tomorrow. Hold firm and, God willing, explode the ballot boxes in Europe too," Erdogan told an election rally in the Aegean province of Mugla on Wednesday.

More than 63 percent of the votes cast by Turkish voters in Germany approved the controversial referendum introducing a presidential system of government. Many were shocked that people living in Germany - and a higher proportion than in Turkey proper - could support what they see as a shift to an undemocratic and authoritarian government.

Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) first came to power in 2002.