Saturday, April 14, 2007

Most Turks to vote for Bayrou in France as political landscape changes

Today's Zaman

The nearly 500,000 Turks living in France have a growing interest in the country's upcoming presidential elections. As opposed to their past indifference to domestic political issues, Turks are now unusually excited about the elections.

"Who are you going to vote for?" is the cliché question among them these days. Affected by the growing anti-Turkey campaign in the country, Turks became more aware of the issues surrounding them. The Socialist Party, the Turks' favorite in the last decade, is losing its support base because of its insistence on the recognition of the so-called Armenian genocide, and central-right candidate François Bayrou is now the new favorite. Turkish associations are working hard to encourage Turks to go to the polls. Even religious motives are being used to ensure French Turks cast their votes. French Religious Affairs Advisor Ömer Faruk Harman, in his address to the Turks who participated in an event celebrating the birth of the Prophet Mohammed, said those who do not vote will have committed a sin.

Recent public surveys indicate that immigrant voters prefer leftist parties, which have proven traditionally to be more concerned about the issues of immigrants. Turks have been no exception for a long time. However, the Socialist Party's (PS) emphasis on the Armenian "genocide" and its apparent anti-Muslim stance have now distanced Turks from the party.

Recalling that he previously considered voting for the Socialist candidate Segolene Royal, statistical engineer Osman Yavuz, 26, says he has recently changed his mind because of the PS attempt to draft a bill that would penalize denial of the Armenian "genocide." In an attempt to protest the Socialists, Yavuz will vote for the rising star of the central right, François Bayrou, who is known for his opposition to the bill. Yavuz has never considered voting for Sarkozy, who he describes as an "authoritarian, manipulative liar and dangerous man."

Seventy-five percent of the more than 50 Turks we surveyed about their vote in the upcoming elections note that while they are traditionally supporters of leftist parties, this time they will vote for Bayrou. Member of the Goussainville City Council Sevgi Karaman from the PS, confirming that Turks were "running away" from the party, notes that the Armenian genocide issue in particular bothers Turkish voters. Karaman asserts that despite the presence of different opinions within the party vis-à-vis the Armenian issue, the party administration is acting under pressure from the Armenian diaspora in France. Karaman also contends that the party's indifference to immigrant issues, as reflected in its reluctance and inability to develop effective policies to address them, is another reason that is driving Turks away.

Ümit Metin from the Turkish Citizens Assembly (ACORT), a nongovernmental organization dedicated to the promotion of political participation among Turkish-French, noting that not only Turks but also the French have shown interest in Bayrou, attributes the rise of the conservative candidate to the reactionary electorate who want to punish Sarkozy. Assuming that Sarkozy will become president if Sarkozy and Royal qualify for the second round, they simply want to block Sarkozy by voting for Bayrou. Metin notes that despite some of its unpleasant policy plans, Turks should still support the PS.

It has been observed that the discussions in France on Turkey's EU membership have led the Turks to become more concerned and aware of the issues; however, their participation in the political process is still in its infancy. Estimates suggest that about 100,000 out of 500,000 Turks in France have dual citizenship. Hamit Bulut, chairman of the Western Associations Union, an umbrella organization of 10 associations in western France, notes that they are waging campaigns to encourage Turks to exercise their democratic rights. Noting that there are 14,000 Turks with the right to cast a vote in their district, Bulut recalls only 5,000 have registered as voters. But this is actually a pretty amazing figure, especially considering that it was about 800 in the past.

In reference to the growing political awareness among the Turks in France, the chairman of Strasbourg-based Hybrid Culture Youth Council (COJEP), Ali Gedikoğlu asserts that Turkish politicians will be effective in France's domestic political landscape in the years ahead.

Turkey's Ambassador to France Osman Korutürk, speaking at the gathering marking the birth of the Prophet Mohammed, described political participation by the Turks as the best way to contribute to Turkey and the country in which they are living.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.



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