Nearly one in every four German citizens comes from an immigration background. Therefore, political parties from across the spectrum are reaching out to them to secure the minority vote share.
On the evening of September 20, Cansel Kiziltepe was in the middle of making final arrangements for her last public engagement of the day in one of Berlin's under-privileged neighbourhoods in the Kreuzberg district.
Just as she was done with her red sofa and settee arrangement, a woman walked up with a tray of cups full of coffee for Cansel and her team. Showing cultural etiquette, Cansel was polite in refusing the coffee, but the lady was equally persuasive until Cansel accepted the coffee.
“I helped her find an apartment here, her son goes to a special school in the neighbourhood and she didn't have anywhere to live – so I guess this is a thank you coffee”, says Cansel.
Cansel is preparing for Germany's federal elections slated for September 26. Regional experts believe that the polls will end with results that will push the country in a new direction of openness, inclusiveness and respect for minorities.
A Social Democrat Party member for the Bundestag from the Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain constituency, Cansel looks after some of the most densely populated ethnic minority neighbourhoods in Germany – where many of her constituents face similar problems of lower employment prospects, poorer integration, and poor participation in politics.
As the country heads towards Federal Elections in the next few days, Germany's 26 percent citizens from migrant backgrounds are thrust into the electoral limelight.
Political parties, particularly from the left, are targeting the ethnic vote bank with friendly faces and targeted policy ideas.
Only around eight percent of Bundestag members come from migrant backgrounds, while none is in the current cabinet. People from migrant backgrounds only make up around six percent of those employed in the public sector.
And it's this lack of representation that has kept many, from ethnic minority backgrounds, away from active political participation including voting.
“My parents were the first generation of 'Guest workers' from Turkey, they lived here 60 years, but never voted, they didn't feel very German, never felt like actively participating in this society, but this is a sentiment found widely across Turkish Germans,” Cansel said.
She wants people of migrant backgrounds to shun political apathy.
“If you don't vote, how do you get your voice heard? If people of migrant backgrounds would like to see more people like them in the Bundestag, they have to stand up and vote for them. People have to take ownership of this country, only then change can happen”.
But Cansel is not the only one campaigning for change. The Left Party is also out in the Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain constituency, campaigning outside one of the main mosques at Friday prayer time.
According to the latest opinion poll results, a left-wing coalition of the SPD, the Left party and the Greens, is more likely to form government in Germany, which, after a 16-year reign of the Christian Democrat and Christian Socialist right-wing coalition, is being seen by many analysts as a historic turning point in Germany's political history.
Speaking to TRT World, Gokay Sofuoglu, chairman of the Turkish Association of Germany (TGD), said left-wing parties usually respond better to important issues in migrant societies, such as anti-discrimination and anti-racism, equal opportunities and social justice.
"Overall, they are more open and interested in our concerns,” he said.
The TGD is the largest of its type representing the views and addressing issues concerning the Turkish diaspora in the country.
Sofuoglu is disappointed at the pace of reforms over the last 16 years.
“In the 16 years, the Union (CDU/CSU coalition) has improved on issues such as anti-discrimination and anti-racism, but the change is too slow and a lot of work is needed,” he said.
Social & Economic Inequality
For Sofuoglu, migrant communities are still facing issues that have stunted their social and economic growth for several decades.
"Unequal employment opportunities or discrimination when looking for a flat, in schools or in the health sector. These are all structural problems that have not significantly improved,” Sofuoglu said.
OECD data on social mobility in Germany suggests it can take six generations for low-income families to reach the country's average income.
Widespread employment discrimination has seen 14 percent lower interview calls for candidates with foreign-sounding names.
Cansel says her party has a particular focus on bringing people out of poverty.
“The SPD wants to raise the minimum wage from 10 Euros per hour to 12, we want to build almost half a million more new homes a year to address the housing emergency”, she said, adding that these are all very popular ideas in the country.
She said she reserves her expertise for extensive education reforms.
Pointing to the years she invested in grass-roots activism, Cansel says she developed a deep understanding of unequal resource allocation in German society.
“I want to bring in education reforms, more funding for education, which would see children attending extended school hours, deeper focus on better learning the German language, better cultural orientation, better integration in society, through all this they will eventually receive better educational qualification and be able to go up the socio-economic ladder,” she said.
In its latest research, the TGD, polled member candidates from across the political spectrum on some key issues.
On the issue of racism and discrimination, and legislating against it further and bringing it to the fore, the TGD asked aspiring members of the Bundestag if they would consider forming a new ministry to take racism and discrimination more seriously, the left wing parties agreed overwhelmingly, but only 19 percent of the candidates from the incumbent CDU/CSU entertained the idea.
Left wing parties also supported the idea of setting 'diversity quotas' for employment of ethnic minorities in public services.
TGD's Chairman Sofuoglu said “parties like the SPD are of course closest to the people of the working class. That is one reason why the majority of people of Turkish origin still vote for the SPD.”
Cansel says she wants to bring a change not just for her constituency but also her two children who are growing up in an ever-changing Germany, where more and more Germans now share diverse roots.
“Diversity brings richness in society, and we should embrace it,” she says, “but with political and social engagement too.”