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Turkey Elections: Erdogan Rival Pledges Visa-Free Travel to Europe in Three Months

Presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu says he can make all the legal changes in three months.The Turkish opposition’s joint presidential nominee, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, said he would make it possible for Turkish citizens to visit Europe visa-free just three months after he assumes office. 

“We will come to power. We will win the presidency. We will solve visa problems,” he said during a televised interview on Haberturk TV on Wednesday. “Within three months, our citizens will be able to enter Europe without a visa.” 

Turkey and the European Union started visa-liberalisation dialogue in 2013 after Ankara signed a readmission agreement that allowed EU countries to send back illegal immigrants entering the bloc from Turkish territory. In 2016, as part of a migrant deal, the EU promised to grant visa-free travel for Turkish nationals within the Schengen area.

However, Turkey failed to meet five out of 72 benchmarks to achieve the goal. 

The remaining benchmarks include legal amendments on fighting corruption, concluding an operational cooperation deal with Europol, judicial cooperation with the EU member states, updating personal data protection legislation, and revising the legislation on terrorism in compliance with EU standards. 

Asked about the remaining benchmarks, Kilicdaroglu said he would make the relevant changes and show Europe that Turkey is a country where freedom of expression is exercised without any restriction. “We will bring all the democratic rules stipulated by the EU to our country,” he said. 

Observers in Ankara say visa-free travel to Turkish citizens still would be unlikely for some time, even after Turkey completes all the benchmarks due to the increasing number of Turkish asylum seekers, which amounted to 55,000 applicants last year. 

Turkey’s EU accession process has been dragging since 2005 due to bilateral and regional disagreements as well as the Turkish government’s democratic backsliding. 

Election Pledges

Two separate European officials told Middle East Eye that Kilicdaroglu last month promised in a private meeting with EU ambassadors to reform Turkish laws to comply with EU standards to provide more freedoms to the public, including for the press and non-governmental organisations.

“We will make these changes even if you don’t take us into the EU,” Kilicdaroglu said, according to the sources. 

Kilicdaroglu, the chairman of the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the presidential candidate representing six opposition parties, has now made a series of election pledges that could be considered populist ahead of the 14 May elections. 

He promised to make 15,000 Turkish lira ($788) bonus payments to 13 million pensioners during Eid al-Adha if he wins the presidential race. The offer could be costly for the Treasury since it would require 240 billion Turkish lira ($12.4bn) in funding.

Kilicdaroglu also said he would hire an additional 100,000 teachers and re-open schools in villages where imams, teachers, agricultural technicians, and veterinarians would serve the public. “The state would pay for the insurance premiums for all the youth and women who live in the villages,” he said. 

A poll conducted by Yon Eylem Research on 27-29 March, with 2,655 respondents, indicated the presidential race will likely go to a runoff.

The survey says Kilicdaroglu might get 46.4 percent of the vote while incumbent president Recep Tayyip Erdogan might stay around 41.6 percent, and presidential hopeful Muharrem Ince will receive 9.1 percent. 

Source : Middle East Eye