Erdogan's potential victory in the upcoming runoff elections depends on nationalists backing
Both Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu have seen the potential in riding the wave of Turkish nationalism to victory in the upcoming election, which is great news for Ogan and his "Ancestral Coalition."
A runoff vote on May 28 will determine Turkey's future and whether the key NATO ally supports Erdogan's populist Islamist government or returns to French-style "assertive secularism" and withdraws tacit support for Russia's military intervention in Ukraine.
Turkey's Supreme Election Council announced on Monday that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan received 49.5 percent of the vote on Sunday, while his primary opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, received 44.89 percent. More than 64 million people were eligible to vote to elect a president and parliament for a five-year term.
Is Sinan Ogan a kingmaker?
Turkey's election on Sunday saw Islamist populist Erdogan clinch 27.1 million votes, falling shy of the 50% needed to win outright and moving up to a runoff. Kilicdaroglu, his primary challenger, received 24.6 million votes and will face Erdogan again in two weeks.
The third candidate, Sinan Ogan of the ATA coalition, garnered 2.8 million votes, according to the results, and became a force to be reckoned with. Sinan is known for his racist and far-right beliefs, notably when it comes to Syrian refugees. He has a background in academia and international finance development and formerly belonged to Erdogan's AK Party supporter, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
Although Sinan’s 2.8 million votes could not win him a chance for the presidential slot, the runoff phase gave him a decisive position to make or break the future Turkish leadership. Both the main contestants start approaching him to win his support for the next round, which is crucial for both.
Political observers emphasize the possibility that, given his Kamalist political program and nationalist stance, he would play a pivotal role in a runoff election. In a tweet, Sinan added that "Turkish nationalists and Ataturkists are in a key position for this election" and that "a second round is quite possible." To maintain pressure on Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu, Ogan plays up the possibility that he could declare his loyalty at any moment, depending on the candidates' proposals for the formation of the next government.
Ogan told Reuters on May 15 that he would only vote for opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu against incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan if Kilicdaroglu promised to make "no concessions" to the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP).
“In the event of a runoff, we will discuss our options with our constituency. Yet, we have already made it plain that fighting terrorism and returning [Syrian] refugees are our red lines," Ogan, who received 5.2% of the initial vote, said.
Ogan and Erdogan both believe that the HDP is connected to the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), despite the fact that the HDP supported Kilicdaroglu in the first round of elections. The government in Ankara views the PKK as a terrorist group.
Both Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu have seen the potential in riding the wave of Turkish nationalism to victory in the upcoming election, which is great news for Ogan and his "Ancestral Coalition." Erdogan has already made arrangements with the nationalist MHP party to form a coalition as support for his ruling AK party declines. The 69-year-old president ran a strongly nationalist campaign that highlighted the might of the military, the importance of the defense industry, and the country's attempts to become more energy independent. Kilicdaroglu has allied himself with the nationalist Good Party ahead of Turkey's presidential election this year to profit from the country's "rally behind the flag" mood.
Analysts believe the patron of runoff polls doesn't have to be the same as in the initial phase. Significantly, even if Kilicdaroglu received all the votes tabulated for nationalist forces, including Sinan Ogan, he would barely cross the 50% threshold, whereas Erdogan only needs 0.5% more votes to win the presidency. They assert that two to three percent of the electorate may or may not change their mind at the polling booth, which could be advantageous for Erdogan.
What do the Turkish hope to get out of voting?
Many somewhat indecisive voters have been concerned about which candidate, Erdogan or Kilicdaroglu, would do a better job of reducing Turkey's decadeslong inflation and enacting policies that would raise people's standard of living. Discussions on how the government should rebuild after the devastating earthquakes that hit Adana, Antakya, Gaziantep, Kahramanmaraş, and Sanliurfa have also impacted this election. The outcome of this election, however, will have major implications for international relations. Turkey's foreign policy over the past few years is likely to be maintained if Erdogan is re-elected. Ankara is committed to improving relations with countries that have not always been friendly toward Turkey, such as Armenia, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
A Kilicdaroglu administration is expected to bring Turkey closer to NATO and the EU in its fight against Russia. Moscow certainly has a lot riding on this election and a good reason to be concerned about what a Kilicdaroglu victory could mean. Turkish opposition leaders have been courting the West with goodwill gestures for more than a year. The manifesto of the six-member opposition coalition openly highlights the need for reestablishing "mutual trust" with the US, full EU membership, and a desire to rejoin the multi-nation F-35 fighter jet production program from which Turkiye was expelled in 2019 due to its acquisition of Russian S-400 missiles.
According to some analysts, if Erdogan loses the election, security, and defense policies will alter significantly in Turkey. The Turkish opposition is anticipated to concentrate on coordinating these policies with the demands of Turkey's NATO membership, which will result in Ankara playing a more inclusive role within the alliance. This entails accepting Sweden's membership in NATO, taking a more active role in the stationing of NATO forces in Eastern Europe, and creating a missile defense system that is NATO-compatible.
The opposition's biggest problem, though, might be that the majority of Turkish voters have unfavorable opinions of the US. Erdogan's use of anti-western rhetoric that criticizes Washington has helped him rally and keep his voter base.
Islamist Populism and ‘assertive secularism’
Ahmet Kuru, a professor of political science at San Diego State University and one of the foremost experts on secularism and Islam, stated in an interview with Ahwal that Turkey should avoid returning to "assertive secularism" if the opposition parties win the election. Kuru, whose seminal book on secularism and state policies toward religion provoked a heated public discussion in Turkey, suggested that the government of Turkey go from "assertive secularism" in the French tradition to "passive secularism."
Replying to a question, he said that the existence of two opposing points of view is a crucial factor in the recurring debate in Turkey about secularism. “One is that Islam should be at the center of Turkish identity politics and public life, a view held not just by Islamists but also by conservatives. This stance has been embraced, with some nuanced differences, by all right-wing parties. Second, Islam should be regulated by the state because it poses too much of a threat to be allowed unchecked. Kemalists are largely on board with this stance,” he added.
Professor Kuru stated that these are, on the one hand, polar opposite points of view, however, both groups disagree with the concept of a secular state alongside Islam and both support Diyanet's role as a government organization overseeing Turkey's 80,000 mosques.