Was there much hope for success before the “natural” July 1 deadline for the Cyprus talks? Unfortunately not. All Cyprus watchers were pretty much aware anyhow that because of the ambivalent attitude of Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias and the heavy political luggage of Turkish Cypriot leader Derviş Eroğlu, a resolution to the almost half century long problem anytime soon would require more than a miracle.
Greek Cypriots were reluctant to walk the road of compromise, believing - as the EU-member Cypriot state recognized by the world - that they did not need to compromise. With the unwavering support of EU-membership hopes dashed, Turkey and behind them the Turkish Cypriots, were determined not to give up any of their fundamental positions. Thus, hopes of a resolution to the almost half century old Cyprus problem were left to wait until after both the Greek Cypriot EU term presidency and the coming presidential elections in southern (Turkish) Cyprus.
With half of the Greek Cypriot EU term presidency over and only months until the presidential elections, the atmosphere in the southern half of divided Nicosia was not one of hope or promise of resolution. On the contrary, talking with Greek Cypriot leaders it was easy to immediately realize the daunting task facing peacemaking on the island. No one approved of the Annan plan any more, including those who were supportive of it back in 2004. Almost no one was of the opinion that the latest round of direct talks, “a process aimed at achieving a settlement by Cypriots for Cypriots” as Christofias loves to describe them, should be continued from where they were left in June.
Eroğlu has almost three more years in the presidency, but since Christofias is not seeking reelection he will have to continue the process with whoever emerges the victor after the February Greek Cypriot presidential elections. At the moment, Democratic Rally leader Nicos Anastasiades appears to be in the lead of the presidential race. Anastasiades and Eroğlu, as two center-right leaders, both wish to demonstrate - not only to the leftists but also to the right-wing politicians on both sides - that they can develop good relations, have dined together many times in the past few years. Such “good relations” and numerous luncheons and dinners between leftist leaders - outgoing president Christofias and former Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat – helped contribute to attempts toward a resolution. Will past wining and dining help Eroğlu and a probable president Anastasiades strike a deal? The prospects are high, considering that Anastasiades supported until very recently a loose federal settlement, very much like Eroğlu. However, to win the support of far-right as well as the undecided “nationalist” votes, which he would need to win 50 percent or more of the vote (in public opinion polls he retreated to 39-41 percent from over 45 percent last month) he has lately started supporting a pro-strong central government stance. My intense efforts to meet Anastasiades failed, as he was scared of saying something wrong that could further upset his election campaign.
With electoral calculations, he has stepped back from his well-known pro-loose federation position. Should he be elected, could he manage to leave behind domestic political calculations, act with a statesman-like responsibility, and deliver the loose federation demanded by Turkish Cypriots and not much appreciated by Greek Cypriots? Could he change his ambivalent approach, be more responsible and deliver a compromise settlement? Very unlikely.
On the other hand, there are intense efforts by the Church of Cyprus and the die-hard conservatives and socialists (a strange coalition, but Cyprus’ reality) to produce a “surprise” unity candidate strong enough to beat Anastasiades in the polls. Could that be achieved? So far, reportedly, there are three candidates and no consensus on any of them. However, there is time ahead of the elections.