Turkish candidate Kilicda Rogul braces for run-off against Erdogan

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ANKARA (AFP) President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s biggest challenger in the Turkish presidential election switched gears on Thursday, adopting a more nationalist stance and stepping up peace with Kurdish militants. 

Turkish voters will return to a run-off on May 28 after both Erdogan and rival Kemal Kirikdaroglu won more than 50% of the vote in Sunday’s first round.

The election will determine whether the country will remain under an increasingly authoritarian president for 30 years, or whether it will embark on the more democratic route promised by the opposition.

Erdogan faces headwinds in the election due to the cost of living crisis and criticism of the government’s handling of the devastating earthquake in February. But with Erdogan’s allies holding power in parliament, Erdogan has a good chance of winning his second vote.

 

A mild-mannered co-candidate of the six-party opposition coalition, Kirikda Rogul has launched a very positive and cohesive campaign, largely based on a promise to reverse the crackdown on free speech and other forms of democratic setbacks.During his campaign, he also defended a promise to fix an economy hit by high inflation and currency devaluation.

Many of the rallies of his main pro-secular opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), ended with Kirikda Roglu making a heart with his hand.

But this week, the 74-year-old politician stepped up his rhetoric to appeal to nationalist voters, including those who voted for the apparent third candidate, nationalist politician Sinan Ogan.

“Erdogan! They didn’t protect the borders or the honor of the country. They are hosting more than 10 million refugees,” Kirikdaroglu said in a speech at party headquarters. “You have turned your own people into refugees. I declare that as soon as I take power, I will bring all refugees home.


Amid mounting anti-immigrant sentiment in the country, Mr. Kirikdaroglu had previously said he would repatriate the refugees within two years by creating favorable conditions for their return. Turkey is said to be the country hosting the largest number of refugees, including at least 3.7 million Syrians. The CHP leader also hit back at Erdogan, who after winning support from the country’s pro-Kurdish political parties, portrayed Mr. Kirikdaroglu as a “terrorist” collaborator. Analysts seem to resonate with the theory among nationalist voters, as President Erdogan dominates the country’s mainstream media. They were reluctant to support Mr. Kirikdaroglu, fearing that he would not be strong enough against terrorism.

“Unfortunately, the electoral process, which should be a celebration of democracy, has been overshadowed by President Erdogan’s campaign of lies and smears,” Kirikdaroglu said.

“Aren’t you the one who sat at the table with the terrorist organization and made secret deals with them behind closed doors? I declare to all my people that I have never been associated with any terrorist organization and will never do so. It’s the point,” he said.

He referred to peace efforts between the Erdogan government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which collapsed in 2015. The PKK has led an insurgency in southeastern Turkey since 1984 and is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

According to provisional results, Erdogan won 49.5% of the vote on Sunday, while Kirikda Rogul won 44.9%. Ogan has yet to endorse Erdogan or Kirikdaroglu in the runoff, but it’s unclear what percentage of his supporters will vote for the candidate he supports in the second round.