A Turkish nationalist who has led a rising wave of anti-refugee sentiment has announced that he is backing Kemal Kilicdaroglu, President Erdogan’s rival, in Sunday’s presidential election run off.
Umit Ozdag founded his Zafer Party in 2021 with a manifesto of returning refugees to their countries, and had previously been in a coalition with Sinan Ogan, the third candidate in the first round of elections on May 14.
Ogan announced this week that he was throwing his support behind Erdogan in the run-off, prompting Ozdag to split with his former ally. He has said that he expects to be interior minister in an opposition government should Kilicdaroglu win on Sunday.
In a joint press conference with Kilicdaroglu this morning, Ozdag laid out his key pledges, which include returning the 3.6 million Syrians and other refugees in Turkey to their country within a year.
Over the past decade, Turkey has become the biggest refugee-hosting nation in the world, but most Turks are unhappy and believe that their country is being used by Europe to stop migrants heading further west. Since 2016, the EU has been handing money to Turkey to strengthen its border control and look after the Syrians who are living there.
Tensions have risen as the Turkish economy has stuttered and more Turks are struggling with soaring inflation. There have also been a slew of stories on social media and in the press claiming that refugees are assaulting Turkish women. Ozdag claims that there are at present 13 million refugees in Turkey, although the official figure is 5 million.
“If you don’t want Turkey to be ‘Migrant-istan’, if you don’t want to worry about your daughter when she goes out, if you want to be able to send your son to the corner shop at night with peace of mind, vote for Kilicdaroglu on May 28,” Ozdag said.
Ozdag also said that he would repeal the law that allows foreigners to buy Turkish citizenship through a property purchase of at least $400,000, a scheme that was introduced in 2018 and has proved popular with Iranians, Gulf Arabs and, more recently, Russians. His other pledges include ending corruption and nepotism in the state and returning Turkey to its secularist founding principles.
Ozdag’s backing has provided a much-needed boost to Kilicdaroglu, who trailed Erdogan by 5 per cent in the first round and is almost certain to lose the run-off. But it has also cemented the dominance of far-right nationalism over both sides of Turkey’s political divide. Since 2015, Erdogan has relied on his partnership with the hard nationalist MHP, Ozdag’s former party, to keep control of the parliament, and has adopted increasingly nativist policies and rhetoric.
Kilicdaroglu has long pledged to send Syrian refugees back, but had campaigned on a softer message of unity and democratisation in the first round.