Main opposition leader and presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu changed his rhetoric and campaign strategy after he failed to win the May 14 presidential election in Turkey, thus necessitating a runoff on May 28. Kılıçdaroğlu, in a short video released yesterday, tried to woo supporters of nationalist Sinan Ogan, who received 5.28 percent of the vote on Sunday, denying President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a victory.
Ogan is the candidate of an alliance advocating the return of refugees back home to Syria either voluntarily or by force. A former member of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Ogan said he would announce who he will support in the runoff after negotiations with the competing parties.
Kılıçdaroğlu, the candidate of the Nation Alliance, which was formed by six opposition parties that conducted a positive campaign until May 14, followed a strategy that focused on the economic difficulties in the country and promised to return to a parliamentary system of governance instead of the current executive presidency.
When Erdogan received 49.5 percent of the vote, it became obvious that that the voters’ preferences were based on identity, national security and terrorism. Erdoğan even increased his vote in the region that was hit by twin earthquakes in February which killed more than 50,000 people, according to the latest official figures, despite his failure to deliver aid and send rescue teams immediately after the disaster struck.
Kılıçdaroğlu, who received 45 percent of the vote on Sunday, started the video by saying, “We will not leave the governing of our homeland to people who brought 10 million refugees to us. Protecting the border is an honor.”
“We will not leave our homeland to those who are incapable of protecting our honor and those who just sit and watch this flood of refugees,” he added.
As of May 11 there were 3,388,689 documented Syrians under temporary protection status in Turkey. The opposition claims that the number of Syrians in Turkey is much higher than the official figures.
According to official records, 211,908 Syrians have been granted Turkish citizenship. Opposition parties claim that this number is also much higher in reality and that the government secretly naturalized many more Syrians in order to increase their votes in the 2023 elections. Turkish media reported that a significant number of naturalized Syrians changed their names so as to not be noticed in the voter registration polls.
Ümit Özdağ, a strong supporter of Oğan and leader of the far-right Victory (Zafer) Party, claimed that Syrians and undocumented migrants engaged in looting in areas affected by the earthquakes and suggested that orders should be given to the army to shoot them.
Özdağ has long claimed that Syrians were forced to migrate to Turkey as part of a project introduced by foreign powers under which they will change the demographic structure of Turkey in line with their own strategy and drag the country towards a catastrophic civil war.
Kılıçdaroğlu accused Erdogan of plotting against the Turkish military by collaborating with the US and the Gülen movement, a group critical of Erdogan, referring to the 2012 trials of Ergenekon, a clandestine organization that was accused of plotting against the Turkish government. By repeating this argument, which is often voiced by ultranationalists, Kılıçdaroğlu showed that he has adopted a more nationalist stance.
Kılıçdaroğlu also accused Erdogan of being under the control of Russia. In a tweet in Turkish and Russian he posted before May 14, Kılıçdaroğlu stated that there might be Russian interference in the election and told the Russians not to interfere “in our internal affairs,” to which Erdogan said, “If you attack Putin, I can’t remain silent,” although Kılıçdaroğlu didn’t mention Putin by name.
During the election campaign, Erdogan accused Kılıçdaroğlu of collaborating with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Gülen movement and of damaging the Turkish family structure by defending LGBT rights.
Kılıçdaroğlu, who ran a pro-Western campaign, highlighted the importance of the NATO alliance and stated that if he was elected, he would improve relations between Turkey and the West. However, the enormous increase in the number of nationalist and Islamist voters in the May 14 elections may mean that these promises will not be repeated ahead of the runoff.
“Let those who love their country go to the ballot box. They want to distract you with all kinds of lies and misperceptions and those who pretend to be the opposition. My dear young people, get up, get up! We will fight until the end. We will definitely win,” Kılıçdaroğlu said at the end of the video.