Turkish diplomatic missions are organizing meetings for ruling party representatives to bring them together with Turkish citizens ahead of the 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections. Party gatherings are deliberately presented by the visiting delegation as if they are public meetings with Turkish expatriates in the host country.
It is no secret that one of the main strategies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) regarding the 2023 elections is to get as many votes as possible abroad. So AKP delegations work very actively in Europe for the presidential election, given the fact that election polls predict the margin will be narrow, meaning that each vote counts.
The ruling party carries out its activities in 33 countries through an association called the Union of International Democrats (UID). The UID is often described as the long arm of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, particularly in Europe, for mobilizing the Turkish and Muslim diasporas for the goals of political Islamists back in Turkey.
A UID delegation led by AKP Deputy Chairman Efkan Ala, who runs the party’s overseas operations, was in Canada last week. Turkish diplomats accompanied the delegation, which met with Turkish citizens in Montreal and Toronto.
Turkish Consul General in Toronto Sinem Mingan organized a gathering that brought the party delegation together with Turkish NGO representatives on November 28.
Zafer Sırakaya, a lawmaker in the delegation, announced the meeting with a tweet that said, “We continue to defend the rights of our citizens no matter where they live in the world, in the Century of Turkey,” the campaign slogan of the AKP.
Party officials held another meeting with UID volunteers in the same hall on how to organize in Canada. The consulate general arranged the venue, which was paid for by Turkish taxpayers.
The delegation had held a similar meeting in Montreal, organized by Turkey’s consul general, Sencer Yöndem.
Considering that Turkish diplomats have never held similar gatherings for opposition party representatives, these meetings surely have a political agenda in favor of the ruling party.
However, the interesting thing is that such meetings attended by diplomats are not included on the social media accounts of the diplomatic missions. Turkish diplomats who notify Turkish citizens of events on their personal and official social media accounts prefer not to share the stories of the meetings with the UID.
To be frank, it does not seem possible for Turkish diplomats to decline the demands of the UID, which is protected and promoted by President Erdoğan and Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu
On December 2 Çavuşoğlu, who was in Romania for the Meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs, attended the opening ceremony of the UID’s Bucharest office.
Stating that he had also contributed to the opening of some offices in Europe as AKP deputy chairman in the past, Çavuşoğlu said the UID had made important contributions to Turkish diplomacy, adding that the ministry is grateful to them.
Çavuşoğlu also said they intend to improve voting in cities where Turkey does not have a diplomatic mission; however, the Supreme Election Board has to approve any plans for that purpose. If this happens, voter turnout abroad will increase.
It appears that the AKP will organize more events abroad as the elections approach. It should be noted that Erdoğan, who is trying to ally even with small parties with negligible voting potential, is a leader who works hard for the votes abroad. In the 2018 presidential election, there were a total of 3,032,206 voters registered abroad, but the turnout was only 44 percent, meaning that 1,335,901 people voted for the presidential candidates. Erdoğan had achieved success well ahead of his rivals by garnering 59.41 percent of these votes. However, this success notwithstanding, the party that is exerting the most effort to win the votes of the European diaspora in the upcoming elections is again the ruling AKP.
Nordic Monitor previously reported that Turkey’s ruling party officials met with party members at Turkish diplomatic missions in Europe and that ambassadors organized gatherings with pro-government NGOs in an example of Turkey’s transformation into a “party-state.”
Erdoğan frequently meets with UID delegations and gives them various instructions. Erdoğan last year instructed UID members to be more aggressive and active, telling them, “Don’t defend. Attack, explain our cause!” promising that Turkish state institutions would provide them with increased assistance.
He also urged his supporters to work hard to secure important posts in the governments of their host countries, pledging them the support of Turkish government agencies during a workshop with a UID representatives in 2019.