Around 250,000 fewer Turkish-origin Bulgarian citizens were able to vote because of obstacles, says head of Balkan society
Balkan associations in Turkey have criticized the restrictions imposed by Bulgarian authorities on Turkish-origin Bulgarian citizens going to the polls in Turkey to vote in Sunday's parliamentary election in Bulgaria.
A former Ottoman territory, Bulgaria has a large Turkish minority of about 10 percent, according to official census figures. There is also a large number of Turkish-origin Bulgarian citizens living in Turkey.
Bayram Colakoglu, head of Balkan Turks Culture and Solidarity Association told Anadolu Agency on Monday that some 250,000 fewer people were able to vote Sunday because of a new law limiting the number of ballot boxes for Bulgarians living in Turkey to 35 -- for an estimated 500,000 expat residents -- a move the Turkish Foreign Ministry said was intended to hinder ethnic Turkish Bulgarians from voting.
Last year, there were 140 ballot boxes.
Colakoglu said this meant a "discrimination" among Bulgarian citizens, and was "undemocratic".
Prof. Yuksel Ozkan, head of Balkan Migrants Culture and Solidarity Association (Bal-Goc), said that on Sunday morning, the Bulgarian officers "suddenly" decided that the application forms would be completed in the rooms where ballot boxes were present.
"This is unacceptable. There are people who know the Cyrillic alphabet and there are people who do not. When we help people [fill in the forms], we are not making propaganda. We know very well why this decision was taken," Ozkan said.
He added that the number of ballot boxes available in the northwestern Bursa province was down to 8 from 42 compared to previous elections.
"Therefore a lot of people traveled 12 hours to vote in Bulgaria, where they were harassed by the mercenaries of Bulgarian parties at the border gates," Ozkan said.
Head of Gebze Balkan Turks Association, Beyhan Donmez said that although some 1,800 to 2,000 votes were cast in the previous elections in Istanbul's Gebze district, the number dropped to 900 this time, which he blamed on the Bulgarian officials who he said "slowed down work".
President of Aegean Balkan Turks Federation, Huseyin Kocaman complained about the "congestion" at the ballot boxes due to the reduction in number, which forced "half" of the voters to go back without casting their ballots.
Sunday's election -- the fifth time since May 2013 Bulgarians have gone to the polls -- took place amid tensions between Ankara and Sofia.
Disputes erupted over claims Turkey was favoring the Democrats for Responsibility, Freedom and Tolerance (DOST) coalition.
DOST, which means "close friend" in Turkish, generally has ethnic Turks or Muslims among its members.
On Friday, right-wing activists staged a demonstration in Bulgaria's Kapitan Andreevo area to block expat Bulgarian voters living in Turkey from taking part in the voting process.
The demonstrators, many brandishing anti-Turkey banners and Bulgarian flags, blocked traffic at the border, forcing passengers from Turkey to disembark from buses and walk across the frontier on foot.
Last week's protests also drew a response from senior Turkish cabinet ministers.