TURKEY: Kemal Kilicdaroglu has made promises to address nationalist voters in Sunday’s run-off election by vowing to repatriate millions of Syrian refugees. However, the president has accused him of employing hate rhetoric.
Kilicdaroglu, the frontrunner, faces the challenge of winning over the 2.8 million followers of the third-place finisher and the 8 million abstentions from the first round, which could narrow the gap. His BaBaLa TV YouTube channel has garnered 23 million views, while Turkey’s population stands at 85 million.
International observers have criticized Turkish election officials for failing to uphold the fundamental principles of a democratic election. President Erdogan has also taken measures to suppress opposition and imprison political opponents.
In Bala, located an hour’s drive from Ankara, Al Ozdemir, a doner kebab business owner, has declared his intention to vote for the extension of President Erdogan’s term by another five years. This decision stems from Erdogan’s previous victory with over 60% of the vote, as well as the absence of the five million first-time voters in Turkey being visible on the streets.
The 74-year-old opposition figure, known for his heart-shaped cup, is no longer present, opting instead to focus on gaining the support of followers of ultranationalist leader Sinan Ogan from two Sundays ago.
Despite President Erdogan’s win, the Victory Party led by Umit Ozdag secured 1.2 million votes. Kilicdaroglu has pledged to repatriate 13 million migrants within a year, while Turkey currently provides shelter to the highest number of refugees.
According to Prof. Murat Erdogan, the estimated number of Syrian refugees and undocumented migrants from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in Turkey ranges from 6 to 7 million. Forcible repatriation would entail sending back more than 50,000 individuals per day, making voluntary repatriation an unrealistic option. However, opinion polls indicate that up to 85% of Turks support the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland.
Nezih Onur Kuru from Koc University argues that both sides have nationalist parties to accommodate, and Kilicdaroglu is capitalizing on the security concerns held by many voters. President Erdogan has already initiated the return of Syrian refugees and intends to continue doing so. He has also used a manipulated film to link his opponent with the PKK, a militant Kurdish group.
President Erdogan’s focus lies on the pro-Kurdish HDP party, which backs Kilicdaroglu and has been accused of having ties to PKK terrorists. However, the HDP has legitimate concerns about Kilicdaroglu’s association with far-right nationalists. President Erdogan’s mismanagement of Turkey’s economy and inadequate response to the February earthquakes could lead to his defeat.
Kilicdaroglu’s strategic shift has gained the support of 50% of voters. Nonetheless, Songul, the owner of a chicken restaurant in Bala, believes that people are standing by Kilicdaroglu due to their lack of trust in the alternative candidate.