German election: Turks follow tradition by voting for Schroeder

Germany's Turks faced a stark choice Sunday: Angela Merkel, who says their homeland should not be part of the EU, or Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder who has long said it should. As they voted, most interviewed said they favored Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats who, historically, have been thought of as more welcoming to Germany's immigrants than others, including Angela Merkel and the Christian Democrats. The question of Turkey's possible membership in the European Union is a potent issue. Schroeder supports Turkey's eventual entry, but Merkel and the conservatives have said the country, which bridges Europe and Asia, should only have privileges, not full membership. Other Turks, however, saw the vote as between the lesser of two evils, noting that Merkel's plans to revive the floundering economy appealed to them, but not the perceived notion that it was hostile to them because of where they were born. Others said they didn't favor Schroeder or his party, but cast their ballots for the incumbents out of necessity.

This is Germany's first election in which candidates have considered Turks, who began arriving 45 years ago as guest workers, to be a large enough voting bloc to sway the results. Of the 2.6 million Turks living in Germany, some half a million were eligible to cast votes. In the tight race between Schroeder and Merkel, they could play a key role in deciding the winner. It was too soon to say exactly how Turkish Germans voted. Past studies have shown that the group the nation's largest Muslim group has tended to support Social Democrats or the Greens. But recently those two parties, which govern together in a coalition, have irritated many Turks by putting through social welfare and unemployment reforms, which have seen cuts to benefits.

Ahmet Iyidirli, a candidate for the Social Democrats of Turkish origin, said that given the vulnerability of Turks and other immigrant groups it was especially important to preserve many welfare benefits against market reforms proposed by the conservatives. "Giving in fully to the market would be the wrong way the socially weak groups will become the losers in our society, and we don't want this," he told The Associated Press after casting his ballot.

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