The Turkish election scene is truly disgusting, a scene in which the Syrian refugees have become a scapegoat and the subject of fierce bidding by various parties. Recent days have witnessed a peak in this regard, reflecting the outcome of the first round of the presidential elections that took place in conjunction with the parliamentary elections on Sunday, 14 May. The current President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, received just under half of the votes, so a second round was required, while the opposition candidate, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, received about 45 per cent, and the fascist far-right candidate won about 5 per cent.
As a reminder, Erdogan is running in the elections on behalf of the Justice and Development Party that he founded and leads, and the People’s Alliance that combines his party with the ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) classified in the far right, as well as smaller groups, including the Free Cause Party, known in Turkiye as the “Turkish Hezbollah”. As for Kilicdaroglu, he is the leader of the Republican People’s Party, which is associated with the legacy of Mustafa Kemal, the founder of the Turkish Republic, as well as with the international social democratic movement. He ran in the presidential elections on behalf of a coalition that includes six parties, known as the Table of Six and the Nation’s Alliance, which includes parties whose positions range from Kemalist (Good Party) to conservative Islamist (Felicity Party).
As for the third candidate, Sinan Ogan, he is a former member of the Nationalist Movement Party who ran in the first presidential election round under the banner of the Ancestral Alliance, which identifies with the fascist heritage. Similar to far-right groups everywhere, a major pillar of the Ancestral Alliance platform, as well as the Nationalist Movement Party, is hostility towards immigrants and refugees, which basically means hostility towards Syrian refugees, whose numbers reached over 3.5 million in Turkiye, out of the 5.5 million refugees who left Syria in the last ten years.
The top two candidates who remain in the running for the second round on Sunday, Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu, thought that gaining the support of the third candidate, Ogan, would lead those who voted for him in the first round to vote for them in the second round, meaning they would win the election. Intense efforts were made in this regard during the past week, as the two battling candidates competed to win the endorsement of the fascist alliance candidate.
Last Thursday, Kilicdaroglu delivered a speech immersed in opportunism in a miserable attempt to woo voters who voted for Ogan in the first round. He launched an attack on Erdogan, accusing him of flooding Turkiye with refugees, while exaggerating their number by claiming that it was 10 million, and promising to expel them from the country if he were to win the elections. Kilicdaroglu also blamed Erdogan for his negotiations with terrorists in the early years of his presidency, in reference to the PKK. This speech, which reflects Kilicdaroglu’s desperation to achieve his dream, is a losing bet, as he failed to woo the far right. Instead, he received great criticism from the left-wing opposition, whose votes he is counting on, including the Peoples’ Democratic Party, who are sympathetic towards the PKK.
On the other hand, Erdogan met with Ogan last Friday and, while what happened between the two in the meeting was not disclosed, it led to the Ancestral Alliance candidate announcing on Monday his endorsement of renewing the term of the current President. It is likely that the MHP circles played a role in urging Ogan to support Erdogan. The fact is that the latter, after losing the absolute majority in the 2015 parliamentary elections, made a sharp political turn and allied with the MHP, which has been sharing power with it since then, and this coincided with the re-ignition of the war with the PKK.
There has also been a gradual shift in the Turkish government’s rhetoric and practical measures, from welcoming the Syrian refugees to considering them a burden on the country that must be eliminated. Erdogan became determined to create a “Safe Zone” inside the Syrian territory in order to remove the refugees from Turkiye to it, while suggesting that forcibly returning refugees to eastern Syria would flood the areas with a concentrated Kurdish population with Arabs. However, this project has faced major obstacles, including American displeasure with it, and the Syrian regime’s rejection, supported by Russia and Iran. The Turkish government took the initiative to copy the Arab regimes, that it was in conflict with until recently, in their approach to reconcile with the rule of the Assad family, hoping to make a deal with the latter that would allow for the return of the majority of the refugees to the Syrian territories, which is also what the Lebanese and Jordanian rulers are seeking.
In any case, the far-right nationalist party has held the key to Turkish rule since 2015, i.e., since the Justice and Development Party needed it to secure a majority in the Turkish Parliament. This was further established in the 2018 elections, in which the party won a little less than half of the seats (295 out of 600). As for the last elections, the party won only 268 seats, and its nationalist ally won 50 seats, while the Nation Alliance won 212. This means that whoever wins the elections next Sunday, whether Erdogan (which is likely) or Kilicdaroglu, will be forced to rely on the Nationalist Movement Party to for a parliamentary majority, which confirms that the Syrian refugees will definitely be the scapegoat at the next stage.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 23 May 2023
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.