The purported kingmaker in Turkey’s presidential election, a third-party candidate whose support could tip the outcome of the vote, announced his endorsement of incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, dealing a blow to the opposition and its hopes of unseating the Turkish leader after two decades in power.
Turkish nationalist candidate Sinan Ogan, who ran for the presidency in Turkey’s election on May 14, threw his support behind Erdogan late Monday. Ogan won a surprising 5% of the vote in the initial contest, exceeding expectations and becoming a figure that both Erdogan and his rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, needed to court in the hopes of winning his supporters’ votes.
The crucial presidential election in the country of 85 million is going to a runoff on May 28, since no candidate won more than 50% of the vote. Erdogan, 69, finished solidly ahead with 49.5% of the vote; 74-year-old Kilicdaroglu had 44.9%.
The result of the first round of Turkey’s presidential election was a blow to the opposition, which is made up of six different parties and led by Kilicdaroglu, who is running as a candidate for change, economic reform, protection of democratic values and closer ties to the West.
Despite Turkey’s suffering economy, a severely devalued currency, high inflation and a slow government response to a series of devastating earthquakes in February that saw some 50,000 people killed, Erdogan so far remains on top. The endorsement from Ogan is yet more bad news for Turkey’s opposition.
“I announce that we will support the candidate of the People’s Alliance President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and invite the voters who voted for us in the first round to vote for Mr. Erdogan,” Ogan said Monday.
It was a decision made “after deliberation and because we believe that it is the right thing for our country and our people,” he said.
Ogan, a hardline anti-immigrant nationalist, was running as the presidential candidate for the Ancestral Alliance, a coalition of Turkish right-wing parties. He previously said that his support would depend on the hardening of each candidates’ position toward migrants, refugees, and Kurdish groups that Ogan considers to be terrorists.
As a result, Kilicdaroglu issued a speech laced with anti-migrant rhetoric — but it failed to convince Ogan and his voters.
“Hard to see a path to victory for Kilicdaroglu,” Timothy Ash, emerging markets strategist at Bluebay Asset Management, wrote on Twitter.
Soner Cagaptay, a Turkey historian and senior fellow at the Washington Institute, pointed out that most of Ogan’s voters on May 14 are from the same areas as Erdogan’s staunchest supporters. “Almost identical with Erdogan’s base, which means a slam dunk for him on May 28!” Cagaptay wrote.
Others described Kilicdaroglu as facing an “uphill battle” in the fight for victory.
Kilicdaroglu himself responded to Ogan’s announcement via comments on Twitter.
“It is clear who sides with those who sell out this beautiful country,” he wrote Monday, including anti-migrant language to his response. Turkey is home to 4 million refugees, mostly Syrian and Afghan, many of are subjected to frequent racism.
“We are coming to save this country from terrorism and migrants. This is a referendum,” he wrote. “Let’s not allow anyone to fool anyone anymore. I invite all of the youth and the 8 million citizens who didn’t vote to come to the ballot boxes.”