By Orhan Coskun
ANKARA (Reuters) - Turnout among Turkish expatriates voting abroad for the first time fell short of expectations, officials said on Monday, with just 8 percent of those eligible taking part in a presidential election which Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is expected to win.
Erdogan had been hoping to draw strong support from parts of the 2.8 million Turkish population abroad and one official from his ruling AK Party said the low turnout would hit him the most, though opposition supporters also appear to have stayed away.
Voting abroad, mainly at embassies and consulates, began on July 31 and finished on Sunday. Expatriates can, however, still vote at customs offices on Turkey's borders until the election is held on Aug. 10, potentially lifting the final turnout.
"As of this morning, (voter) participation was around 8 percent, but at least double or three times that was expected," a second senior AK Party official told Reuters.
Turks abroad have in the past only been able to vote in elections at customs offices on the border and the official blamed the low turnout on the complicated logistics, including a requirement that voters book an appointment in advance.
Some voters had reported difficulties in making appointments even before the process began.
Deputy Prime Minister Emrullah Isler told reporters the number of those who voted abroad stood at 232,000, with a further 152,000 voting at customs offices.
Internationally the level of expatriates who vote in elections is generally around the 10-15 percent level, another senior Turkish official said, although a higher level had been anticipated in this vote.
Turks are voting for their president for the first time - until now, heads of state have been elected by parliament. It is also the first time expatriates can vote in any Turkish election in their countries of residence.
Some 53 million people can vote in the election, including 2.77 million abroad, of which 2.45 million are in Europe.
The first round in Turkey will be held on Aug. 10. If none of the candidates win more than 50 percent, a second round will be held on Aug. 24.
Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics for more than a decade but is barred by party rules from standing for a fourth term as prime minister. Opinion polls last month placed him well ahead of his competitors on 54-56 percent.
Parliament's two biggest opposition parties are backing Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, former head of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, as their candidate for president.
Selahattin Demirtas, head of the pro-Kurdish left-wing People's Democratic Party, is also running in the race.
(Additional reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Toby Chopra)