Germany's Turks start voting in critical Turkish elections

By Ayhan Uyanik, Friederike Heine and Sarah Marsh

MUNICH (Reuters) -Turkish citizens based in Germany began voting on Thursday in Turkey's elections at a record number of polling stations aimed at boosting their participation in a vote that is the biggest electoral threat to President Tayyip Erdogan in two decades in power.

Germany is home to the world's largest Turkish diaspora, which in the past has shown strong support for Erdogan, who is trailing in opinion polls, and his conservative AK party.

Some 1.5 million Turkish citizens there are eligible to vote before presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14 in Turkey. They have until May 9 to submit ballots.

The German foreign ministry said in a statement it had approved 16 polling stations for all the cities where Turkey has consulates. In 2018 there were 13.

Still, pro-government Turkish media criticized Germany for not allowing Turkey to double the number of polling stations.

"This is a political decision, I have to say quite frankly. And at this point, it is important for the relations between the two countries to revert from the mistake they made," said the head of Turkish Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee and AK member Akif Cagatay Kilic.

Some voters see the election as a potential turning point for how Turkey is governed after a deep cost of living crisis and collapse of the lira currency, as well as a test of a 2017 referendum that gave Erdogan near unchecked authority and significantly weakened parliament.

Turkish voter Umur Saman urged fellow citizens in Germany to take part.

"They live in Europe, they see the circumstances in Europe and they also see the road Turkey is taking. If they want the benefits they get here in Germany to be the standards in Turkey as well, they have to take responsibility for their country and use their right to vote," he said.

Kemal Goktepe, another voter at the Munich consulate said: "President Erdogan wants to continue his presidential system. So it's a decision: we believe the system is not entirely democratic."

The elections will take place three months after powerful earthquakes in Turkey's southeast killed tens of thousands and left millions homeless. Erdogan has been criticized for his handling of the disaster.

(Reporting by Ayhan Uyanik in Munich, Sarah Marsh in Berlin, Ece Toksabay in Ankara; Writing by Friederike Heine; Editing by Rachel More, Alexandra Hudson and Grant McCool)