The nationalist candidate who came third in the first round of the Turkish presidential elections has formally endorsed Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with the runoff vote to be held on 28 May.
Sinan Oğan, 55, emerged as a potential kingmaker after neither Erdoğan nor his main challenger, the opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, secured the necessary majority in the first round on 14 May.
“I declare that we will support Mr Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the candidate of the People’s Alliance, in the second round of the elections,” Oğan said, referring to the Erdoğan-led alliance that includes nationalist and Islamist parties.
“We believe that our decision will be the right decision for our country and nation.”
Oğan is a former academic who was backed by a far-right anti-migrant party. He won 5.17% in the 14 May vote and could hold the key to victory in the runoff now that he is out of the race.
Erdoğan received 49.5% of the votes in the first round – just short of the majority needed for an outright victory – compared with Kılıçdaroğlu’s 44.9%.
Erdoğan’s ruling AK party and its nationalist and Islamist allies also retained a majority in the 600-seat parliament. That increases Erdoğan’s chances of re-election because voters are likely to vote for him to avoid a splintered government, analysts say.
Oğan cited Erdoğan’s parliamentary majority as a reason for his decision.
“It is important that newly elected president is under the same [leadership] as the parliament,” Oğan said. “[Kılıçdaroğlu’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 Erdoğan on Monday followed a surprise meeting between them in Istanbul on Friday. Oğan insisted on Monday that he did not engage in any horse trading.
Oğan had attracted votes from people who disapproved of Erdoğan’s policies but did not want to support Kılıçdaroğlu, who leads Turkey’s centre-left, pro-secular main opposition party.
Analysts said that despite Oğan’s endorsement, it was not certain all of his supporters would go to Erdoğan. Some were likely to shift to Kılıçdaroğlu while others might choose not to vote in the runoff.
Umit Ozdag, the leader of the anti-migrant Victory party that had backed Oğan, appeared to dissociate himself from the decision to endorse Erdoğan.
“Mr Sinan Oğan’s statement is his own political choice. This statement does not represent [the views of] the Victory party and does not bind the party.” Ozdag said he would make a statement on Tuesday.
Oğan 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.
Erdoğan 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.”
In an apparent attempt to sway nationalist voters, Kılıçdaroğlu hardened his tone last week, vowing to send back refugees and ruling out any peace negotiations with the PKK if elected.