The third-placed contender in the Turkish presidential election has formally endorsed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the second-round run-off vote to be held on May 28.
The nationalist presidential candidate Sinan Ogan, 55, has emerged as a potential kingmaker after neither Mr Erdogan nor his main challenger, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, secured the majority needed for a first-round victory on May 14.
Mr 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 run-off now that he is 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,” Mr Ogan said, in reference to the Erdogan-led alliance that includes nationalist and Islamist parties.
Mr Erdogan received 49.5% of the votes in the first round – just short of the majority needed for an outright victory – compared with Mr Kilicdaroglu’s 44.9%.
Mr Erdogan’s ruling AK party and its nationalist and Islamist allies also retained a majority in the 600-seat parliament.
That increases Mr Erdogan’s chances of re-election because voters are likely to vote for him to avoid a splintered government, analysts say.
Mr Ogan cited Mr Erdogan’s parliamentary majority as a reason for his decision.
“It is important that (the) newly elected president is under the same (leadership) as the parliament,” Mr Ogan said.
“(Mr 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 Mr Erdogan came days after he held a surprise meeting with the Turkish leader in Istanbul on Friday.
No statement was made following the one-hour meeting.
Mr Ogan insisted on Monday that he did not engage in any horse-trading with the Turkish leader.
Mr Ogan had attracted votes from people who disapproved of Mr Erdogan’s policies but did not want to support Mr Kilicdaroglu, who leads Turkey’s centre-left, pro-secular main opposition party.
Some were likely to shift to Mr Kilicdaroglu while others might choose not to vote in the run-off race.
Umit Ozdag, the leader of the anti-migrant Victory Party that had backed Mr Ogan, appeared to dissociate himself from the decision to endorse Mr Erdogan.
“Mr Sinan Ogan’s statement is his own political choice. This statement does not represent (the views of) the Victory Party and does not bind the party,” Mr Ozdag tweeted.
He added that he would make a statement on Tuesday.
Mr 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.
Mr 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, Mr Kilicdaroglu hardened his tone last week, vowing to send back refugees and ruling out any peace negotiations with the PKK if he were elected.