Who is Sinan Ogan, Turkey's nationalist 'kingmaker'?

Who is Sinan Ogan, Turkey's nationalist 'kingmaker'?
Sinan Ogan won 5 percent in Turkey's presidential elections this weekend. While he was way out of the running to becoming president, the votes he garnered places him in a key position in deciding Turkey's next leader.
4 min read
15 May, 2023
Ogan is one of the leading figures in far-right Turkish politics [Getty]

A Turkish presidential candidate who won just over 5 percent of the vote in Sunday's presidential election looks set to play a key role in deciding the country's next leader.

Sinan Ogan, 56, has been described as a far-right, nationalist leader who is known for making anti-refugee and xenophobic comments.

His success in the general election will likely see him demand a key government post in return for lending his support to one of two presidential candidates - President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

With neither politician obtaining over 50 percent of the vote, there will be a second round of presidential elections and Ogan's signal to his supporters of which candidate to back could ultimately clinch who becomes Turkey's next president.

What is Ogan's background?

Ogan is a veteran figure in Turkey's nationalist movement, who has been associated with far-right political parties, think tanks and academia since the 1990s.

He was born in the eastern city of Igdir to a family of Azerbaijani descent in 1967, before studying business administration at Marmara University. He went on to complete a Master's degree in financial law/banking and a PhD in international relations and political science at Moscow State Institute of International Relations, according to TRT.

Ogan has worked at Azerbaijan State Economic University, the Center for Eurasian Strategic Studies, and founded the Türkiye Strategic Analyses Centre (URKSAM) think tank.

How did Ogan enter politics?

Ogan began politics as a deputy for the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in his hometown of Igdir in 2011, going on to becoming a leading figure in the far-right movement.

He, along with several other leading members of the MHP, clashed repeatedly with party leader Devlet Bahceli.

The rebel MHP bloc campaigned to divert the party away from its alliance with the AKP and opposed its backing of Erdogan's proposed law to change Turkey's parliamentary system into a presidential model.

After publicly backing a "no" vote in a referendum on the constitutional change, Ogan left the MHP and campaigned as a nationalist independent.

Who does Ogan represent now?

Ogan has run as an independent since he left the MHP in 2017 although he was picked to be the presidential candidate for the nationalist Ancestral Alliance (ATA Alliance) bloc, which includes the anti-immigration Victory Party in this year's election.

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Who will Ogan back?

Ogan has not backed any candidate yet, although it is believed he will likely lend his support for Erdogan - who secured the most votes - in return for a key ministerial position.

Syrian and other refugees have already been the target of anti-immigration political rhetoric and policies in recent years, including Ogan, and Erdogan is seen as more sympathetic to Syrian refugees than Kilicdaroglu.

Ogan has also opposed the MHP's alliance with the AKP and Erdogan's centralisation of power through the presidency.

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Yet he also appears to be highly sceptical of Kilicdaroglu's unspoken alliance with the left-wing People's Democratic Party (HDP), which is seen by many on the right as a front for the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militia and called for its supporters to back the CHP leader.

Before the election, when asked which presidential candidate he might eventually support, Ogan said: "We will look at their national stances and competence. We will look at the situation of affiliation with terrorism and seeking help from terrorism. We will decide with common sense. Common sense shows us that we may not be able to promise heaven, but it's time to close the gates of hell."

This was seen as a possible nod of support to Erdogan, who has ordered several military campaigns against Kurdish militants in northern Syria.

What has he said so-far?

Hours after the election results came in, Ogan's position as kingmaker in the elections became clearer with all eyes on which way the far-right politician might turn.

"We will consult with our voter base for our decision in the runoff. But we already made clear that the fight against terrorism and sending refugees back are our red lines," Ogan told Reuters on Monday.

This appears to be a dig at the opposition bloc's apparent alliance with the HDP and another sign that Ogan might lend his support to Erdogan.

Yet Syrian refugees will be highly concerned by his continued xenophobic comments, which comes amid a push toward normalisation in the region - including by Ankara - with the Assad regime.