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Turkey elections: Cracks emerge in opposition over Kilicdaroglu's anti-refugee policy

Several senior officials have resigned from the Gelecek party citing the opposition's virulent anti-refugee rhetoric
A protester holds a placard reading 'humanity has no borders!' during demonstrations in Istanbul protesting the deaths of migrants on 5 February 2022 (Reuters)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Cracks are emerging in the Turkish opposition over presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu's anti-refugee rhetoric, just days before the country holds a hotly contested runoff election.

Several members within Kilicdaroglu's opposition alliance have resigned after the 74-year-old, a nominally centre left politician, renewed his pledge to expel all refugees if elected president as he attempts to win support from nationalist voters. 

The presidential hopeful has repeatedly accused the government of incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of allowing "10 million" refugees into the country, sharply inflating official estimates of Turkey's refugee population.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says Turkey hosts around 3.9 million refugees, the majority of whom have fled the conflict in neighbouring Syria.

Kilicdaroglu's claims that the number of "irregular" migrants could spiral to 30 million have triggered anger among some of his centre-right allies such as the Future Party (Gelecek), led by former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and the Democracy and Progress Party (Deva), led by former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan. 

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On Monday, eleven senior officials from Gelecek, including some of the party's founders, resigned, saying that Davutoglu’s policies were increasingly out-of-touch with rank-and-file members, as were Kilicdaroglu's anti-refugee policies. 

The signatories, who called themselves Democrat Muslims, said: "Here we openly declare to the public: We will not be on the side of those who defend anti-immigration in a way that will trample human dignity.

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"We will not stand by a language that insults refugees who take refuge in our country and have no other purpose than to live and survive in safety and peace."

While Gelecek’s leadership has since issued a statement which states the signatories don't represent the party, there are indications that many current members aren't pleased with Kilicdaroglu's anti-refugee remarks. 

"Racism is a different manifestation of despotism, not an alternative. By making election propaganda over the refugees living under temporary protection status in Turkey and targeting them, they only feed grudge and hatred in the already polarized society," said Khaled Khoja, a Syrian-Turkish politician and a founder of the Gelecek Party.

"Every politician who is knowledgeable on the subject knows that the return of Syrian refugees with temporary protection status depends on the realization of political stability in Syria and that this can only happen within the framework of UNSC Resolution 2254."

Political suicide

Mustafa Yeneroglu, a newly elected MP from Deva, which ran on a ticket with Kilicdaroglu's Republican People's Party (CHP), said he would continue to defend the rights of the marginalised people.  

"The inviolability of human dignity is above all politics. It cannot be sacrificed for any purpose under any circumstances," he said. 

Erol Katircioglu, a former MP with the pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party (HDP), heavily criticised reports that Umit Ozdag could serve as an interior minister if Kilicadaroglu won on Sunday. 

"Is Umit Ozdag the minister of interior? I hope they don't do this nonsense!" he said. "It would be the most serious step Kilicdaroglu took and he would lose."

On Wednesday, Ozdag threw his support behind Kilicdaroglu's campaign, saying the two had agreed to send refugees back to their home countries within a year. 

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Selim Temurci, a deputy chairman at Davutoglu's Gelecek, also railed against Ozdag's possible ministerial position, calling it a joke. 

"The Nation Alliance, a social peace project, has committed to solving the problem of immigration and asylum seekers," he said. "Not every way to win is fair." 

Ufuk Uras, a left-wing liberal politician who was once close to HDP, said Kilicdaroglu was making a huge mistake by allying himself with Ozdag. 

"In the future, historians will describe this day as the great mass suicide attempt in politics," he said. 

The HDP will issue a final statement on whether to support Kilicdaroglu on Thursday, but has said the protocol Kilicdaroglu signed with Ozdag includes articles that are contrary to universal democratic principles.

Kilicdaroglu received 44.9 percent in what was seen as the biggest electoral challenge to Erdogan's 20-year rule.

Erdogan secured 49.4 percent of the votes, while third-placed ultra-nationalist candidate Sinan Ogan got 5.2 percent. 

Erdogan’s governing Justice and Development Party and its nationalist allies won a comfortable parliamentary majority on the 14 May elections, but Erdogan fell just shy of the 50 percent threshold needed to win outright in the presidential contest.

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