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Turkey Elections: Far-right Victory Party throws support behind Erdogan challenger

As Turkey enters the final stretch to the presidential runoff, the political tone has gotten harsher with name-calling and libel suits.
YASIN AKGUL/AFP via Getty Images

IZMIR, Turkey — Turkey’s far-right Victory Party endorsed opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu Tuesday in a move that may help him close the 5% gap with the frontrunner, incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the runoff Sunday. 

The gesture is expected to counterbalance the support Erdogan received from Sinan Ogan, the third presidential candidate who garnered 5.2% of mainly nationalist and protest votes in the first round on May 14. Shortly afterward, the nationalist ATA Alliance of four small parties that fielded Ogan as its candidate fell apart and Ogan extended his support to Erdogan while Vecdet Oz’s Justice Party and Umit Ozdag’s Victory Party favored Kilicdaroglu. 

Ozdag, the architect of the nationalist ATA Alliance and the leader of its largest party, said on camera that he and Kilicdaroglu agreed on a seven-point protocol whereby “13 million refugees, particularly Syrians, would be sent home within a year.”  

But the former professor of international relations quickly added that the procedure would be done “within international law” and “ensure that they would be safe in their homeland.” 

“If you want your mothers, daughters and wives to be safe on the streets, if you want the Turkish economy to flourish without the shackles of $10 billion we annually pay to support refugees and if you do not want Turkey to become Immigrationland, vote for Kilicdaroglu,” Ozdag said, accusing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of not having a policy for sending refugees back. 

Since its establishment in August 2021, Ozdag’s Victory Party has pursued an aggressive anti-immigration campaign, with videos that show a dystopian future in which Arabic is the official language in Turkey and Turks are reduced to manual jobs while Syrians run the country. Earlier this year, it started a donation campaign inviting its supporters to buy bus tickets to send Syrian refugees and those who support refugee rights back to Syria. The party has received 2.2% of the vote in the parliamentary polls, leaving it below the threshold of 7%. 

Analysts are divided on whether Ozdag is an asset for Kilicdaroglu or his alliance would cost him the support of the pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party (HDP), which endorsed Kilicdaroglu in the first round. At least 8% of Kilicdaroglu’s 44.9% vote came from supporters of the HDP, which ran in the parliamentary race under the name Green Left and obtained 62 seats. Ozdag has been against Kurdish rights such as education in their language and more authority for local administrations, branding them as separatism. 

The HDP and the Green Left have announced that they convened their central executive committees to assess the situation. A short statement made late Wednesday said they considered parts of the protocol "undemocratic," but would declare their final position on the stance they'd take in the run-off on Thursday May 25.

But Pervin Buldan, the HDP co-chair who was in the eastern city of Mardin with newly elected deputies, said the HDP's mission is to end Erdogan and AKP rule in May 28 runoff , hinting that the support for Kilicdaroglu would continue. 

To prevent the alienation of Kurdish and liberal votes, the Republican People's Party (CHP) denied rumors that Ozdag was promised the post of interior minister for his support. 

The party also sought to clarify an article in the Kilicdaroglu-Ozdag protocol that promised an efficient fight against all “terrorist groups” that target the integrity of the state, explicitly naming the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the supporters of US-based Sunni cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of masterminding the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, and the Islamic State. The article specified that local administrators who cooperate with those groups would be replaced by state-appointed trustees only by a court decision. The CHP underlined the requirement for a “court decision” to distinguish it from the removal of Kurdish mayors in the southeast provinces by presidential decree during the AKP rule. 

Omer Celik, the spokesperson of the ruling AKP, was quick to attack Kilicdaroglu’s alliance with Ozdag. “Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy has gone bankrupt,” Celik said. “He has … adopted a line that is close to the far-right parties in Europe.” 

Politics get uglier with fabricated videos, insults, libel suits  

As Turkey enters the final stretch to the presidential polls, politics have become harsher with name-calling, accusations of fraud and libel suits. Kilicdaroglu, whose restraint and moderate tone were replaced by a more aggressive style after the first round, accused Erdogan of being a "fabricator" after Erdogan admitted to using a doctored video to allege opposition links to the PKK. The doctored video, screened by Erdogan for supporters a week before the first round, shows PKK militants and their top commander Murat Karayilan singing along to Kilicdaroglu’s campaign. 

In an interview with state-run TRT Monday, Erdogan admitted that the montage had been done by “clever young people” from the AKP but insisted that the link between the CHP and the PKK was real. 

Kilicdaroglu announced Wednesday that he would sue Erdogan for 1,000,000 Turkish liras ($50,000) and donate it to the families of Turkish soldiers who died in the fight against the PKK. 

Also, the AKP-allied arch-conservative and notoriously misogynist party Huda-Par said that it had filed a case against Meral Aksener, the only female party chair among mainstream parties, for insulting them. Angered with Huda-Par’s social policy of “finding custodians or protectors for women without families” in a TV program, Aksener called Huda-Par members “idiots who need custodians themselves.” 

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