Unlikely nationalist kingmaker sees his moment in Turkey election runoff

ISTANBUL – Turkey’s presidential candidate suddenly wants to talk to Sinan Ogan, a little-known nationalist politician who came in third in sunday’s election And has become a potential kingmaker overnight.

Ahead of the second round on May 28, Ooan seeks to secure a ministry, while President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his rival Kemal Kilikdaroglu seek the support of their 2.8 million voters, who made up about 5.2 percent of Sunday’s vote. Kılıçdaroğlu’s team said on Monday that their initial talks with Oğan suggested there was scope for cooperation.

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 go into a draw after he failed to achieve the 50 percent needed for outright victory. His main rival Kılıçdaroğlu, who he will face in two weeks, won 44.9 percent (24.6 million).

This impending showdown has given Oğan and his “ancestral coalition” a strong hand, as both Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu see the benefits of taking advantage of 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 is waning. Indeed, the 69-year-old president ran a distinctly nationalist campaign, emphasizing the country’s military prowess, defense industry and energy self-reliance. Equally, Kılıçdaroğlu has teamed up with the Nationalist Good Party for this year’s presidential election, as well as trying to seize on Turkey’s “rally round the flag” spirit.

Oan can pledge his allegiance either way, and he’s playing on that, keeping both Erdoğan and Kılıkdaroğlu guessing.

“From the beginning, it looked like the election would end with a second round and Turkish nationalists and Ataturk supporters will be the decision makers In the second round,” he told reporters overnight that the results were coming, referring to the founder of the modern Republic of Turkey. “We said Turkish nationalists would be at the center of these elections.”

Hailing from the Far Eastern city of Igdir, near the Armenian border, Ogan has been an outspoken rebel in the nationalist movement. He is a former parliamentarian who was expelled from the MHP, a nationalist ally of Erdogan. Strategically, he advocates for the return of Syrian refugees and insists that no concessions should be made to Kurdish parties, which he associates with terrorist groups.

Before the election, he was candid that some compensation was in order, saying: “We will speak about our demands with the parties with whom we are sitting at the table. Obviously we are not going to partner for free. We will have demands like ministries.”

pick a side

As far as the May 28 race is concerned, he is keeping his cards close to his chest, saying he will consult with his “ancestral alliance” and his “fellow travellers”.

Turkish media reported that they received phone calls from both Kılıçdaroğlu and former prime minister Binali Yıldırım, one of Erdoğan’s stalwarts in the AK party.

Engin Özkoç, deputy group chair of Kılıçdaroğlu’s CHP party in parliament, hinted at a possible alliance, saying that the phone chat between Kılıçdaroğlu and Oğan was very positive.

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Erdogan’s supporters celebrate at AK Party headquarters | Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

“I don’t think there is a difference in our views with the expectations of our people. I don’t believe there is a difference in our national stance either,” he told HalkTV, an opposition network.

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

While Erdogan has an alliance with the Kurdish Islamist hardline party HÜDA-PAR, it is not significant to his voter numbers.

The tough question will be whether Oan — and, more critically, his supporters — can really see eye-to-eye with Kılıçdaroğlu.

Kılıçdaroğlu has received very strong support from pro-Kurdish HDP partyHas helped him win overwhelming majorities in eastern cities such as Diyarbakir and Van, and he does not want to risk Kurdish support in a second round with a fractious nationalist coalition.

In his public remarks, Oğan is being extremely cautious on the question of the Kurdish allies of Erdogan and Kılıçdaroğlu. Nevertheless, he added that his position was more nuanced than simply asking a partner not to work with Kurdish parties.

“We set the principle,” he said overnight. “One of those principles was to distance ourselves from other parties which do not distance themselves from terrorist organisations. From the very beginning, I was against the idea that HDP and HÜDA-PAR are the key to politics. If only we had this position, we could say: ‘Dear Kılıçdaroğlu, let’s leave the HDP!’ But it is not such a simple equation.

Now it is expected that Ogan will enjoy his 14 days of fame.