Politico: Introducing Turkey’s election kingmaker

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).

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 greater 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.”

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.

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.”

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.

“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.

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.

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

Kılıçdaroğlu has drawn very strong support from the pro-Kurdish HDP party, which has helped him win massive majorities in eastern cities such as Diyarbakır and Van, and he doesn’t want to jeopardize that Kurdish support in the second round with a bungled nationalist alliance.

In his public remarks, Oğan is being extremely guarded on the question of Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu’s Kurdish allies. Still, he said his position was more nuanced than simply asking a partner not to work with Kurdish parties.

“We set down principles,” he said overnight. “One of those principles was to distance ourselves from other parties that don’t distance themselves from terrorist organizations. From the beginning, I was against the idea that the HDP and HÜDA-PAR are key to politics. If we had only this condition we could have said: ‘Dear Kılıçdaroğlu, let’s give up on HDP!’ But it is not such an easy equation.”

Now expect Oğan to enjoy his 14 days of fame.