Turkiye’s third-place finisher endorses Erdogan

Published May 22, 2023
Leader of the ATA Alliance Sinan Ogan delivers a press conference in Ankara on May 22, 2023. — AFP
Leader of the ATA Alliance Sinan Ogan delivers a press conference in Ankara on May 22, 2023. — AFP

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday secured the endorsement of an ultra-nationalist whose third-place finish helped force Turkiye’s first election runoff.

Sinan Ogan’s 5.2 per cent of the vote in the May 14 general election deprived Erdogan of an outright victory for the first time in his 20-year rule.

He met the Turkish leader on Friday and held separate negotiations with allies of opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

“We will support the People’s Alliance candidate, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the second round of the elections on May 28,” he told reporters in nationally televised remarks.

“I invite voters who backed us in the first round to support Mr Erdogan in the second round.”

Ogan portrays himself as an ardent supporter of a brand of Turkish nationalism espoused by the post-Ottoman republic’s creator Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

He has demanded the immediate expulsion of millions of migrants and sought a firm stance on “terrorists” — a euphemism for Kurdish groups fighting for broader autonomy in Turkiye’s southeast.

The 54-year-old also tried to stop the opposition from discussing constitutional changes that could dilute language stressing the importance of Turkishness at the expense of other ethnicities.

‘Terrorism and refugees’

Analysts question how much weight Ogan’s endorsement carries with his voters.

His tiny party has only been around for a few months and most of his support appears to be disaffected with both Turkiye’s Islamic-rooted leader and his 74-year-old secular rival.

But it undermines Kilicdaroglu’s urgent efforts to expand his appeal among more nationalist voters in the runup to the second round.

“Ogan’s newfound reputation as a kingmaker is an exaggeration.. Ogan’s backing for Erdogan is no guarantee that his voters from the first round will follow in lockstep,” Hamish Kinnear of the Verisk Maplecroft consultancy told AFP.

“Assuming Erdogan’s first round voters remain on side, only a small portion of Ogan’s voters need to go with Erdogan to push the president into his third decade in power.”

Kilicdaroglu ran a more inclusive campaign that focused on Turkiye’s raging economic crisis and Erdogan’s crackdown on civil liberties during his second decade of rule.

But he struck a decidedly more nationalist tone in his first post-election appearance last week.

The former civil servant pledged to send “all the refugees home” when he comes to power and accused Erdogan of failing to “protect the borders and honour of our country”.

Erdogan had signalled that he did not intend to make any concession to Ogan to secure his support.

Kilicdaroglu sounded defiant in a tweet posted moments after Ogan’s announcement.

He accused unnamed forces of “selling out this beautiful country” and signalled his intention to continue pursuing the nationalist vote.

“We are coming to save this country from terrorism and refugees,” Kilicdaroglu wrote. “This is a referendum. No one can fool anyone anymore. “

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