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Turkish anti-migrant party leader backs Erdogan's rival in runoff vote

Umit Ozdag, head of the nationalist Victory Party, said that his party and Kemal Kilicdaroglu agreed on a plan to send back migrants within a year ‘in line with international law and human rights.’ (Photo by AFP)

The leader of Turkey's anti-immigrant Victory Party has endorsed opposition presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu, potentially boosting the challenger as he seeks to defeat incumbent President Tayyip Erdogan in the upcoming runoff vote.

The head of the nationalist party, Umit Ozdag, who won 2.2 percent of the vote in the May 14 parliamentary vote, called on his supporters  on Wednesday to back Kilicdaroglu in the May 28 runoff, when Erdogan intends to extend his two-decade rule.

Ozdag said in a press conference in Ankara next to Kılıcdaroglu that he decided to support Kılıcdaroglu in the second round of the elections.

The endorsement could be in contrast to the one that Erdogan received on Monday from Sinan Ogan, the presidential candidate representing the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Ogan came third with 5.2% of the presidential vote, after Erdogan with 49.5% and Kilicdaroglu with 44.9%.

The competition for support on the right shows more than expected support for nationalists on May 14.

Ozdag said his party and Kılıcdaroglu agreed on a plan to return migrants within a year in accordance with what they described as "international law and human rights."

Ozdag claimed to have held similar talks with Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP), but decided not to support him because their plans did not include returning migrants.

Erdogan's strong showing in early voting confounded pollsters who had said Kilicdaroglu was leading the polls.

His ruling KDP coalition won a parliamentary majority, giving Erdogan another lead in one of the most important elections in Turkey's history. Erdogan has boasted that voting for him in the second round is a vote for stability.

Last week, Kilicdaroglu, head of the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the candidate of the six-party coalition, toughened his tone, pledging to return all migrants to their country after winning the election.

Kılıcdaroglu has also vowed to reverse many of Erdogan's sweeping changes to Turkey's domestic, foreign and economic policies, including reversing an unorthodox economic plan to address the cost-of-living crisis.

Ozdag is the former deputy of the nationalist MHP party, which is part of Erdogan's coalition. He later joined the IYI party, which is part of Kilicdaroglu's alliance, before ousting him and founding the Victory Party in 2021.

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