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Turkey Elections: Erdogan, Kilicdaroglu court far-right endorsement ahead of runoff

Far-right candidate Sinan Ogan's endorsement remains particularly critical for President Erdogan's rival, with merely nine days to go until the presidential election runoff.
Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and AK Party (AKP) wave flags at the AK Party headquarters in Ankara, Turkey May 14, 2023.

ANKARA — Political traffic in Turkey heated up on Friday, as both President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his top rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, courted the country’s far-right electoral alliance ahead of a critical runoff that will determine whether the incumbent president can extend his rule into a new term.

Sinan Ogan, the far-right Ata Alliance’s presidential candidate who won more than 5% of the vote in the first round of the presidential race on May 14, gathered with Erdogan in a surprise meeting Friday at the president’s office in Istanbul’s Dolmabahce Palace. The duo remained tight-lipped over the meeting, but images shared by the Turkish presidency showed both men shaking hands solemnly.

The meeting, which wasn’t announced in the president’s daily schedule, came only hours after Erdogan seemed to rule out potential negotiations with Ogan in an exclusive interview with CNN’s Becky Anderson. Erdogan told CNN he wouldn’t bend to Ogan’s wishes. “I’m not a person who likes to negotiate in such a manner,” CNN quoted him as saying. 

Government critics, meanwhile, slammed Erdogan’s choice of venue for the meeting, saying the presidential office was misused for election purposes.

The surprise meeting came less than an hour after a meeting between main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu and Umit Ozdag, the architect of Ogan’s Ata Alliance, in Ankara. Kilicdaroglu described the talks as “fruitful.”

Ozdag, in turn, said they received responses to a number of questions they had and will share their assessment with the public in the coming days.  

Ogan’s alliance is composed of five parties, including far-right leader Ozdag’s Zafer (Victory) Party. Ozdag grabbed the spotlight in the lead-up to the May 14 elections with his anti-immigrant messages.

Ogan, who has been in the international and domestic limelight since the elections, laid out five demands he says must be met before he endorses any of the rival presidential candidates, some of which include the swift return of Syrian refugees to their homeland and the maintaining of a current constitutional provision that describes all Turkish citizens as "Turks."

Before meeting with Erdogan, Ogan held talks with the opposition camp, meeting with Ahmet Davutoglu’s Gelecek (Future) Party in Ankara on Thursday. Gelecek, which is part of the main opposition-led six-party bloc, described the meeting as “very positive.”

Speaking earlier this week, Ozdag said they would share their decision over whether they would endorse one of the two candidates and who it will be. The far-right alliance’s support has become particularly critical for Kilicdaroglu after Erdogan finished the first round by nearly 5% ahead of him. 

The far right’s unexpected rise forced Kilicdaroglu to steer the wheel to the right, departing from the unifying messages he deployed during his campaign. Striking a jingoistic tone, the main opposition leader this week argued that there were some 10 million refugees living in Turkey and that he would deport them all as soon as he gets elected. He also dialed up his rhetoric on combatting terrorism.

According to the official election results released by Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Board on Friday, Erdogan received 49.52% of the vote, while Kilicdaroglu and Ogan received 44.88% and 5.17%, respectively.

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