Hundreds of Turkish expatriates visited polling stations in the capital and Dubai on Saturday to take part in their country’s first presidential election.
“This is the first time that the Turkish citizens living abroad will be able to vote in presidential elections,” said S Vural Altay, Turkish ambassador to the UAE.
“It’s a new start for our democracy and for Turkey.”
Mr Altay was the first person to cast a ballot at the embassy when the polls opened at 8am, giving Turkish citizens a chance to directly elect their president for the first time. He said that “it was a nice coincidence that those abroad could vote for the first time as well”.
The UAE is home to about 10,000 Turkish nationals, of whom about 3,400 had registered to vote at the embassy and the consulate by the July 9 deadline.
The participation rate of Turkish voters in the UAE was “average”, said an embassy official, who estimated attendance at the polls to be fewer than 1,000 citizens.
Turkish expats are also eligible to vote at customs checkpoints and airports in their homeland until election day, August 10.
Voters entering the embassy said they were thankful to be able to participate.
Oznur Altincaba, 30, said she had felt disenfranchised in the past.
“Usually we are just watching from outside and we are not able to vote ,” said Mrs Altincaba, who has lived in Abu Dhabi for almost five years.
“This is another very, very critical election for us, so this is a very big opportunity. We live in another country, but our hearts and our minds are still based in Turkey. That’s why it’s very important for us.”
“Now, finally we can vote,” said Ozan Cificiler, 33, of Abu Dhabi. “It was very good, actually. There were no long queues since there are not so many Turkish people here. It’s easier than Turkey here.”
Voting took about five minutes after individuals presented their IDs and were issued a paper ballot showing a photo of each of the three candidates, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu and Selahattin Demirta.
The voters were instructed to use a stamp to select their candidate, place the ballot in a sealed envelope and drop it off in a clear plastic box monitored by embassy officials.
“As a citizen it’s my responsibility to participate in elections, otherwise I will not be able to participate in any discussions.
“That’s why if I am happy or not happy with the situation in Turkey, it depends on me. If I vote that means I put my finger, I put my thoughts on the current political situation,” said Senol Kircaali, 33, who has lived in Abu Dhabi for two years.
Sema Senyil, a finance manager in Dubai, said it was a proud moment for Turks living in the UAE.
“Being able to vote in the presidential elections is very important for us because we feel we have a say on what happens back home,” she said.
Turkish voters in UAE were joined by others around the world. In Germany – home to the largest Turkish expat population, including 1.4 million eligible voters – voters began going to the polls on Thursday.
“I will vote for (Erdogan) because Turkey has economically developed enormously under his rule,” said a young Turkish woman in a headscarf who identified herself only as Feride, accompanied by her two children.
Critics have accused Mr Erdogan and his Islamic-rooted party of intolerance for the demands of secular metropolitan Turks – tensions that boiled up during deadly protests last year in Turkey.
To his loyal followers - who are numerous in Germany’s large Turkish community – Mr Erdogan has transformed Turkey’s infrastructure and projected power on the international stage.
“I think Erdogan will get more votes here [proportionally] than in Turkey,” Yunus Ulusoy, a researcher at the Foundation for Turkish Studies and Research on Integration, said.
Turkish immigrants in Europe “have always suffered from the fact that their country was seen as the sick man of the Bosphorus,” he said. “However, Erdogan made them feel they had value.”
Turkish Community in Germany chairman Gokay Sofuoglu agreed that many expatriate Turks supported Erdogan.
“When they go on holiday in Turkey, they see that the country is more modern, with airports, roads, shopping centres. The health system has undergone major reforms,” he said.
* With additional reporting by AFP