ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — The third-placed contender in the Turkish presidential elections on Monday formally endorsed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the second-round runoff vote to be held on May 28.
The nationalist presidential candidate Sinan Ogan, 55, has emerged as a potential kingmaker after neither Erdogan nor his main challenger, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, secured the majority needed for a first-round victory on May 14.
Ogan, a former academic who was backed by a far-right anti-migrant party, won 5.17% in the May 14 vote and could hold the key to victory in the runoff now that he's out of the race.
“I declare that we will support Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the candidate of the People’s Alliance, in the second round of the elections,” Ogan said, in reference to the Erdogan-led alliance that includes nationalist and Islamist parties.
“We believe that our decision will be the right decision for our country and nation,” Ogan stated.
Erdogan received 49.5% of the votes in the first round - just short of the majority needed for an outright victory - compared to Kilicdaroglu’s 44.9%.
Erdogan’s ruling AK party and its nationalist and Islamist allies also retained a majority in the 600-seat parliament. That increases Erdogan’s chances of re-election because voters are likely to vote for him to avoid a splintered government, analysts say.
Ogan cited Erdogan's parliamentary majority as a reason for his decision.
“It is important that newly elected president is under the same (leadership) as the parliament,” Ogan said. ”(Kilicdaroglu's) alliance on the other hand, could not display sufficient success against the People’s Alliance which has been in power for 20 years, and could not establish a perspective that could convince us about the future.”
His endorsement of Erdogan came days after he held a surprise meeting with the Turkish leader in Istanbul. No statement was made following the one-hour meeting on Friday.
Ogan insisted on Monday that he did not engage in any horse trading with the Turkish leader.
Ogan had attracted votes from people who disapproved of Erdogan’s policies but didn't want support Kilicdaroglu, who leads Turkey’s center-left, pro-secular main opposition party.
Analysts say that despite Ogan’s endorsement, it is not certain that all of his supporters would go to Erdogan. Some were likely to shift to Kilicdaroglu while others might choose not to vote in the runoff race. Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that the anti-migrant party that had backed Ogan hasn’t yet announced which of the two contenders it would endorse.
Ogan listed the conditions to earn his endorsement while speaking to Turkish media last week. Among them were taking a tough stance against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and a timeline for the expulsion of millions of refugees, including nearly 3.7 million Syrians.
Erdogan, meanwhile, told CNN International in an interview that he would not bend to such demands.
“I’m not a person who likes to negotiate in such a manner. It will be the people who are the kingmakers,” he said.
In an apparent attempt to sway nationalist voters, Kilicdaroglu hardened his tone last week, vowing to send back refugees and ruling out any peace negotiations with the PKK if he were elected.
Kiper reported from Bodrum, Turkey.