BERLIN : embers of Germany’s large Turkish community started casting ballots Thursday for the August presidential election, the first time they can vote abroad for a poll in their country of origin.

Germany is home to some three million people of Turkish descent, the world’s largest Turkish expatriate community, and 1.4 million of these are eligible voters with Turkish nationality. The August 10 election, in which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the favourite, marks the first time the head of state will be chosen by popular vote, and the first time polling booths have been set up abroad.

In Berlin, sometimes called the largest Turkish city outside Turkey, voters were rriving at a polling station at the historic Olympic Stadium, which was decorated with a large red-and-white Turkish flag. For some Turks who came to Germany decades ago, it will be the first time they will be casting their ballots anywhere, said Safter Cinar of the group Turkish Community in Germany.

Ballots will be cast in Berlin and six other large venues nationwide until Sunday and then flown to Turkey, as will the results from more than 50 other countries.

‘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. Erdogan roused cheering supporters at a speech on May 24 in the western city of Cologne that was widely seen as a campaign rally, although outside the venue tens of thousands rallied against the controversial leader.

Critics have accused the conservative Erdogan and his Islamic-rooted party of intolerance for the demands of secular metropolitan Turks - tensions which boiled up during deadly protests last year in Turkey. To his loyal followers - who are numerous in Germany’s Turkish community - 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, told AFP.

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 support 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.

In Germany, he added, ‘Erdogan also has his supporters among those who feel discriminated against or kept out of German society. He is their voice.’ Germany in the 1960s started inviting large numbers of Turkish ‘guest workers’ to boost the labour force of an economy still recovering from the devastation of World War II. Along with their descendents they make up the largest immigrant group in Germany. The 60-year-old Erdogan is expected by most analysts to easily win the election against opposition candidate Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, possibly in the first round, despite the turbulence of the past year.

Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) took power after legislative elections in 2002 and has increased its share of the vote in two subsequent polls. If Erdogan becomes president and the AKP wins 2015 legislative elections, he has said he wants to change Turkey’s constitution to potentially enshrine the now largely ceremonial presidency with more powers.