Third-place candidate in Turkey endorses Erdogan in runoff election

Turkey’s third-place election candidate endorsed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday (22 May), boosting the incumbent and intensifying the challenges for opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in a Sunday runoff vote.

Sinan Oğan, a hardline nationalist who was little known among the broader public before the campaign, won 5.2% support in the initial presidential election on 14 May, prompting some analysts to call him a potential “kingmaker” for the runoff.

“I declare that we will support the People’s Alliance candidate Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the second round,” Oğan told a press conference in Ankara, adding his campaign had made Turkish nationalists “key players” in politics.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s Nation Alliance “failed to convince us about the future,” while the decision to back Erdoğan was based on a principle of “non-stop struggle (against) terrorism,” he said.

Erdoğan received 49.5% support on 14 May compared to Kılıçdaroğlu at 44.9%, while the ruling party’s coalition won a majority in parliament. That gives Erdoğan an advantage as he seeks to extend his two-decade rule in what is one of Turkey’s most consequential elections ever.

Oğan, 55, a former academic, was the first-round presidential candidate of an alliance of right-wing parties led by the Victory Party, which is known for its anti-immigrant stance in Turkey, the world’s biggest host of refugees.

In an interview with Reuters last week, Oğan said his goal was to remove two mainly Kurdish parties from Turkey’s “political equation” and bolster Turkish nationalists and secularists.

The pro-Kurdish party HDP has endorsed Kılıçdaroğlu, while the Kurdish-Islamist Huda-Par backs Erdoğan.

Kılıçdaroğlu has pledged to roll back much of Erdoğan’s sweeping changes to Turkish domestic, foreign and economic policies, including reversing an unorthodox economic programme to address a cost-of-living crisis.

Erdoğan has said a vote for him in the runoff is a vote for stability.

In an interview with state broadcaster TRT late on Monday, Erdoğan expressed his pleasure at Oğan’s endorsement.

“I believe that this union of forces will be beneficial for our country and nation,” Erdoğan said, adding that he and Oğan were in agreement on many issues including the fight against terrorism as well as relations with Turkic states.

Commenting on Oğan’s anti-immigrant stance, Erdoğan said his government already had plans to re-settle 1 million refugees in Syria, and a timetable for that plan could be discussed in talks with the Syrian government after the runoff.

Nationalist support

Analysts say Oğan’s support should give Erdoğan a boost but also divide Oğan’s supporters. The Victory Party will separately announce its own stance on the runoff on Tuesday.

Erdoğan’s strong showing in the initial vote confounded pollsters who had said Kılıçdaroğlu led opinion polls. They later pointed to an unexpected surge in nationalist support at the ballot box to explain the result.

Last week, Kılıçdaroğlu, head of the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) and candidate of a six-party alliance, sharpened his tone and vowed to send all migrants back to their countries once elected.