ISTANBUL — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan received a boost on Monday in hopes of extending his 20-year rule when the eliminated candidate in the presidential race endorsed him in the second round.
Sinan Ogan, who placed third in the May 14 vote with nearly 5.2% of ballots, encouraged his supporters to back Erdogan for a third term.
“I declare that I will support the People’s Alliance candidate, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the second round of the elections,” Ogan told a news conference in Ankara.
The first round of the presidential race — held alongside a parliamentary election that saw the ruling alliance secure a majority — left Erdogan just short of the 50% threshold to win outright.
Erdogan, who came to power as prime minister in 2003, won 49.5% against opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s 44.9%. It is the first time in Turkey’s history that a second-round vote is being held.
Over the past week, Ogan — a former member of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) that is now part of the People’s Alliance led by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) — conducted negotiations with both sides to decide whom to back in the May 28 runoff.
In his public statements, Ogan stressed support for whichever remaining candidate distanced himself from terrorism — a condition that applies to both Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu in the eyes of many Turkish nationalists.
Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy was supported by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which stems from Turkey’s wider Kurdish movement and is considered a political bedfellow of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) by nationalists such as Ogan.
The PKK has waged a 39-year insurgency against the Turkish state that has led to tens of thousands of deaths. It is listed as a terror organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Erdogan’s AKP, meanwhile, received support from Huda-Par, a predominantly Kurdish political Islamist party. Four Huda-Par politicians have been elected to parliament by being included in the AKP’s candidate lists.
Huda-Par has historic links to Hezbollah, a Kurdish group that waged a brutal campaign of violence in the 1990s as it fought the PKK and targeted Turkish police officers. The group has no connection to its Lebanese namesake.
Another crucial issue for Ogan was a roadmap for the return of some 4 million Syrian refugees to their homeland.
Ogan outlined on Monday the conditions he said had been reached in securing his endorsement.
“An uninterrupted and stable struggle against all kinds of terrorist organizations will be continued,” he said. “There is now a timetable on the issue of asylum seekers and refugees.
“All conditions will be enforced for asylum seekers to be sent back to their countries within a timetable. Measures will be taken to the highest level to prevent illegal crossings.”
Referring to Kilicdaroglu’s Nation Alliance, Ogan said it “could not show sufficient success against the People’s Alliance … and could not convince us of its future.”
Erdogan’s control of parliament also meant the opposition alliance lacked the “stability factor,” he added.
Outlining the “goals” of his candidacy, Ogan said he had ensured Turkish nationalism and Kemalism — the secularist, modernizing principles of Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk — were at the heart of politics.
He also emphasized the return of refugees, the fight against terrorism and preventing the HDP and Huda-Par from “capturing Turkish politics.”
The former academic stood in the first round with the backing of the Ata Alliance, which is a coalition of four small parties — the Victory Party, the Justice Party, the My Country Party and the Turkey Alliance Party — with an anti-migrant, ultra-nationalist agenda.
The most significant is the Victory Party, led by Umit Ozdag. Both Ogan and Ozdag were expelled from the MHP in 2017 after challenging leader Devlet Bahceli as he moved to ally the party with Erdogan.
Both Ogan and Ozdag have held separate talks with the People’s Alliance and the Nation Alliance. Justice Party leader Vecdet Oz, meanwhile, openly backed Kilicdaroglu on Monday, insisting the goal of the Ata Alliance had always been to stand against Erdogan.
Ozdag said he will announce the second-round candidate the Victory Party would endorse on Tuesday.
The value of Ogan’s endorsement remains in question, however, as there is no clear indication of how willing those who voted for him in the first round would follow his preference for one side over the other.
Atila Kaya, a former MHP lawmaker who had backed Ogan’s candidacy, denounced his decision to support Erdogan.
“If you hope that you can gather the fortune you desire from the will of ‘one man,' it means you have never been familiar with the tradition you are trying to articulate!” he tweeted immediately after Ogan’s announcement.
Kilicdaroglu also responded with a tweet. “It is clear who is on the side of this beautiful homeland and who is on the side of the one who sells this beautiful homeland,” he said.