Sinan Ogan – the ultra-right kingmaker

Sinan Ogan

The academic with Azerbaijani roots came third in the presidential campaign.

(Photo: Reuters)

Ankara He was eliminated from the Turkish presidential race, but his votes are now hard fought. Third-place finisher Sinan Ogan will not be allowed to run again in the May 28 runoff. But with a result of a good five percent, he can now decide which election recommendation he will give to his 2.8 million voters in the country.

In Turkey, incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan just missed an absolute majority in the presidential election and has to face a runoff for the first time in two weeks. According to the electoral authority on Monday, the 69-year-old received 49.51 percent of the votes in Sunday’s election, almost five percentage points ahead of his rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

The role of the kingmaker falls to the ultra-nationalist Ogan. A senior representative of Erdogan’s AKP told Reuters news agency that his party’s chances in the second round were very good. “Ogan now holds the key.”

Western analysts in particular had long suspected that the Kurdish population or the five million first-time voters held the key to victory in the Turkish presidential elections. But according to everything that is known so far after counting the votes, both groups are significantly more heterogeneous than assumed.

Instead, it is a right-wing ultranationalist who now decides which voting recommendations to give to his voters. If he can assert himself as a kingmaker, observers believe that the previously rather quiet politician will have a steep career.

A candidate for “Turkish nationalists”

Ogan, an academic with Azerbaijani roots, ran in the election as the presidential candidate of the Ata Alliance, which consists of four right-wing national parties. The party leader of one of the four parties, Ümit Özdag from the ZP (“Party of Victory”), described refugees as a “plague” last year.

The career of 56-year-old Ogan began in the right-wing nationalist MHP, which is now in an alliance with Erdogan’s AKP party. In 2011 he became a deputy from his hometown of Igdir, an eastern Anatolian province with a sizeable Azerbaijani population. Initially, he had good relations with MHP boss Devlet Bahceli. But when Bahceli began supporting Erdogan’s policies after the November 2015 elections, Ogan joined other nationalist figures.

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The economist received his doctorate from the Moscow Institute for International Relations and is involved in various Eurasian institutes. In the 2000s, Ogan, who speaks Russian and English well, worked in the Ukraine and Russia department of the Eurasian Strategic Research Center (Asam).

Ogan described himself as a candidate for “Turkish nationalists”. His foreign policy stance is more in line with Erdogan’s than that of the left-wing Kilicdaroglu. During the election campaign, Ogan accused the opposition candidate of not understanding right-wing voters in Turkey.

When it comes to positioning in domestic and refugee policy, things get more complicated. However, concessions to Ogan in these areas could cost Kilicdaroglu the votes of the pro-Kurdish HDP. They are also considered crucial for Kilicdaroglu.

Ogan had announced that he would only recommend Erdogan or Kilicdaroglu in exchange for concessions. According to his own statement, the right-wing candidate wants an assurance that “Syrians and all other refugees” will leave Turkey.

“He is the real winner of this election campaign,” said the well-known journalist Rusen Cakir, founder of the media portal Medyascope. That may be an exaggeration, but it reflects the perceived power now bestowed on the politician, previously unknown abroad.

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