kingmaker Sees his Moment in Turkey Election Runoff

Both Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his rival Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu will want the 3 million votes that Sinan Oğan won in Sunday’s 1st round.

Turkey’s presidential candidates suddenly want to talk to Sinan Oğan, a little-known nationalist politician who came third in Sunday’s election and has turned into a potential kingmaker overnight.

Ahead of a second round on May 28, Oğan wants to secure a ministry, while President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his rival Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu want the backing of his 2.8 million voters, who made up about 5.2 percent of Sunday’s vote. Kılıçdaroğlu’s team said Monday their early talks with Oğan suggested there was room to cooperate.

Islamist populist Erdoğan won the first round of Turkey’s election on Sunday with 49.5 percent (27.1 million votes) but the race will now head into a runoff because he failed to secure the 50 percent needed for outright victory. His main rival Kılıçdaroğlu, who will face him in two weeks, won 44.9 percent (24.6 million).   

This impending showdown has given a strong hand to Oğan and his “Ancestral Alliance,” as both Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu have seen the benefits of harnessing Turkey’s nationalist wave in the election.

Erdoğan already has an alliance with the nationalist MHP party as his main coalition partner, while support for his ruling AK party wanes. Indeed, the 69-year-old president ran a distinctly nationalist campaign, stressing the country’s military prowess, defense industry and push for energy self-sufficiency. Equally, Kılıçdaroğlu has teamed up with the nationalist Good Party for this year’s presidential contest, also trying to seize on Turkey’s “rally round the flag” spirit.  

Oğan could commit his allegiance either way, and he’s playing on that, keeping both Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu guessing.  

“From the beginning, it seemed the election will end up with a second round and Turkish nationalists and Atatürk supporters will be the decision-makers in the second round,” he told reporters overnight as the results were coming in, referring to the founder of the modern Turkish republic. “We had said Turkish nationalists would be right in the belly of these elections.”

Before the election, he had been candid that some quid pro quo was in order, saying: “We will speak about our demands with the parties we sit at the table with. Obviously we are not going to be partners for free. We will have demands, like ministries.”

Hailing from the far eastern city of Iğdır, near the Armenian border, Oğan has been a fractious rebel in the nationalist movement. He is a former parliamentarian, who was expelled from the MHP, Erdoğan’s nationalist allies. Strategically, he advocates the return of Syrian refugees and insists that no concessions must be given to Kurdish parties that he associates with terror groups.    

Choosing a side

As far as the May 28 race goes, he is keeping his cards close to his chest and is saying he will hold consultations with his “Ancestral Alliance” and his “fellow travelers.”  

Turkish media reported he received phone calls from both Kılıçdaroğlu and former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, one of Erdoğan’s heavyweights in the AK party.

Hinting at a potential tie-up, Engin Özkoç, deputy group chair from Kılıçdaroğlu’s CHP party in the parliament, said the phone chat between Kılıçdaroğlu and Oğan was very positive. 

Supporters of Erdogan celebrate at the AK Party headquarters

“I don’t think we have differences in our opinions vis-à-vis the expectations of our people. I don’t believe we have differences in our national stance either,” he told HalkTV, an opposition network. 

While Erdoğan does have an alliance with the Kurdish Islamist radical party HÜDA-PAR, it is not crucial to his voter numbers.

One of the key discussions will involve the highly sensitive issue of the country’s Kurdish minority because relations between the nationalist camp and the Kurds are hostile.  

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