Turkish presidential frontrunner Kilicdaroglu talks tough on Syrian migrants

Turkish presidential frontrunner Kilicdaroglu talks tough on Syrian migrants

Turkey’s parliamentary and presidential elections will be held on May 14, a month earlier than planned, despite earthquakes that left an estimated 46,000 dead and millions homeless.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ruled over Turkey since 2003, first as prime minister and then president after 2014.

The country is struggling with a troubled economy, soaring inflation and the aftermath of the February earthquake that has left hundreds of thousands across 11 Turkish provinces in temporary accommodation. The economic troubles are compounded by the multibillion-dollar earthquake reconstruction bill.

The Turkish central bank cut its benchmark rate by 500 basis points in 2021 and again last year, after calls for rate cuts from Erdogan.

Combined with soaring energy and food prices triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year, the eccentric policies caused an inflation spike of more than 85 percent last year.

Challenger and frontrunner Kemal Kilicdaroglu, 74, of the centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP), visited the earthquake-hit province of Hatay on the Syrian border this week and pledged to send home refugees within two years.

“My presidency has two important goals: the first is to send the Syrians back to their homeland. The second is to send those who came illegally via Iran back to Iran,” he said.

“We have to give back our streets and neighbourhoods to their owners. However, we have to do this sensitively, so as not to stigmatise our nation with racism. We are working on it,” Kilicdaroglu told the media on Tuesday.

“For us, the issue is very simple: Border security is national security. Border security is the most fundamental and necessary responsibility of a sovereign nation. Those who cannot protect their borders cannot be sovereign,” he added.

Kilicdaroglu is on the hunt for nationalist voters who have backed Erdogan’s populist Justice and Development Party. He is a member of the Alevi community, a religious minority that has suffered from systematic discrimination in Turkey.

Last year Erdogan vowed to send a million Syrians home but the policy was dismissed as impractical and illegal. An estimated 550,000 refugees have been returned to “safe” regions, the authoritarian president claimed in January.

Polling puts Kilicdaroglu on 56 per cent, compared to Erdogan’s 44 per cent.

However, the divided opposition, suppression of independent media and the judiciary and civil service firmly under Erdogan’s control mean no assumptions are being made about the electoral outcome.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Picture credit: Wikipedia

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