Ahead of a historic election runoff scheduled for May 28, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader and a presidential candidate, on Wednesday secured the endorsement of Ümit Özdağ, chairman of the far-right Victory Party (ZP), signing a seven-article protocol that commits incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s secular rival to send “13 million refugees back home,” a focal point of Özdağ’s election campaign.
Turkey is poised to hold a runoff on May 28 following initial results from the May 14 presidential election that showed Erdoğan failing to secure a victory against his rival Kılıçdaroğlu.
According to the results, Erdoğan received 49.52 percent of the vote, while Kılıçdaroğlu, the candidate of the opposition bloc Nation Alliance, garnered 44.88 percent.
Turkish ultranationalist politician Umit Ozdag declared his support to Kemal Kilicdaroglu. In his speech, he claimed again there are 13 million (far above UNCHR records!) refugees in Turkey whom he says will be returned to their home countries. He said KK agrees with him on this.
— Ayla Albayrak (@aylushka_a) May 24, 2023
The protocol, shared with the press, covers various topics that both leaders have agreed and commits Kılıçdaroğlu to send all refugees and illegal migrants, primarily Syrians, back to their home countries within a year.
This stance aligns with Özdağ’s previous calls to address the refugee crisis as he claimed there are 13 million refugees in Turkey, a number significantly higher than the official record of 4 million refugees and asylum-seekers reported by UNCHR.
The protocol commits Kılıçdaroğlu to adhering to the first four and the 66th article of the constitution, which uphold a national, unitary and secular Turkish state and define Turkish citizenship.
The protocol calls for an effective and determined fight against terrorist organizations.
The protocol lists the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which is classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Gülen movement, a faith-based group that Ankara labels a terrorist organization, a designation that Turkey’s Western allies do not recognize, as terrorist organizations that both leaders intend to take decisive action against.
Kılıçdaroğlu and Özdağ also pledged to appoint state officials instead of elected mayors “whose connections with terrorism are legally proven.”
It is not uncommon in Turkey for Kurds, especially politicians, to face charges due to their remarks about the Kurds or the PKK.
As a government crackdown on Kurdish parties and politicians in Turkey reached new heights following a coup attempt in the country in July 2016, dozens of democratically elected Kurdish mayors were removed from office on terrorism charges.
HDP ve Yeşil Sol Parti Merkez Yürütme Kurulları olarak ortaya çıkan son durumu değerlendirmek ve tavrımızı kamuoyuna açıklamak üzere toplanıyoruz. Toplantı sonrası yazılı açıklama yapacağız.
— Yeşil Sol Parti (@YesillerSol) May 24, 2023
The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the Green Left Party (YSP) announced on Twitter that both parties’ executives had gathered to discuss the agreement between Özdağ and Kılıçdaroğlu, in a bid to re-evaluate the endorsement the party gave to the CHP leader for the runoff.
Turkey’s embattled incumbent has often accused the HDP of links to the PKK, which the party denies.
The HDP faces a closure case on terrorism charges, and it ran in the parliamentary election under the banner of the YSP to avoid the risks of the party’s closure before the elections.
The YSP secured 61 seats in parliament with 8.8 percent of the vote in the May 14 parliamentary elections, according to the unofficial results, while Özdağ’s ZP garnered 2.3 percent of the vote, failing to secure any seats due to the 7 percent electoral threshold.
The HDP said in March that it would not field a presidential candidate in the May 14 elections.
The party announced in late April that it would support Kılıçdaroğlu and reiterated its endorsement for the runoff.
According to the still unofficial results of the parliamentary elections, Erdoğan’s ruling Public Alliance secured a parliamentary majority, garnering 321 of 600 seats.
Kılıçdaroğlu seeks to expand his appeal among more nationalist voters in the runoff. and the endorsement by Özdağ presents a new dynamic in the race against Erdoğan, who secured the endorsement of another ultranationalist, Sinan Oğan, who came in third with 5.2 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election.