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Turkey elections: Kilicdaroglu criticises refugee policy in bid to woo nationalist votes

Opposition leader seen as appealing to kingmaker and far-right nationalist Sinan Ogan, who has campaigned on sending back refugees, including Syrians displaced by war
Kemal Kilicdaroglu (R) the 74-year-old leader of the Republican People's Party, or CHP, casts his vote next to his wife Selvi Kilicdaroglu (2L) at a polling station in Ankara on May 14, 2023 (AFP)
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the 74-year-old leader of the CHP, casts his vote at a polling station in Ankara on 14 May 2023 (AFP)

Turkey's main opposition presidential candidate made a pitch for nationalist voters ahead of a second round of voting, and criticised the government for allowing an alleged "10 million irregular migrants" into the country.

On Sunday evening, Kemal Kilicdaroglu received 44.96 percent of the votes while incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured 49.4 percent, 0.6 percent short of an outright victory.

A third candidate, nationalist Sinan Ogan, obtained 5.17 percent and both Kilicdaroglu and Erdogan are expected to seek his endorsement in negotiations this week.

In a video posted on his Twitter account on Wednesday, Kilicdaroglu called on those who "love their country to come to the ballot box".

"We will not abandon our homeland with this mentality that has brought ten million irregular refugees into us," he said, adding that they needed to urgently be expelled.

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The longtime bureaucrat warned that the number of migrants in Turkey, which has a population of 85 million, could rise to 30 million while providing no evidence for the figures he cited.

He also accused the government of being "under the control of Russia" and said he would "not leave our homeland to those who look at women as objects".

Ogan told Reuters this week that he would support Kilicdaroglu in the runoff "if he agrees to offer no concessions to a pro-Kurdish party."

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Yet distancing himself from the Kurdish vote would be disastrous for Kilicdaroglu, who won heavily in Kurdish-dominated cities. 

Both Kilicdaroglu and the AKP's Binali Yildirim were reported to have held a phone call with Ogan following the vote.

Ultra-nationalist politicians - present in both the government and opposition alliances, as well as independents - have made the expulsion of Syrians from the country their top demand.

Many have suggested the next round of the presidential election will be dependent on anti-refugee sentiment.

The almost four million Syrians in Turkey have, in particular, been a target of xenophobic rhetoric across the political divide in recent years.

Syrians are recognised as "guests" in Turkey and, due to a longstanding geographical exemption for non-Europeans, they are not recognised as refugees, making their right to remain more precarious.

Turkish authorities have caught nearly 50,600 irregular migrants this year as of May 11, after apprehending some 285,000 in 2022, according to Ministry of Interior data.

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