A new old page in northern Cyprus

A new old page in northern Cyprus

A new but old page was opened in northern Cyprus during the weekend with National Unity Party (UBP) leader Hüseyin Özgürgün declaring that he has forged a coalition government with the Democratic Party-National Forces (DP-UG) with the support of four independent deputies. It was a new page because the badly failed “grand coalition” government of the Republican Turks’ Party (CTP) and the UBP has been replaced with a new government. It was an old page because since its inception, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has been mostly ruled by the UBP while the DP-UG has always been “the other party” of the UBP supporters. Besides, the UBP becoming the junior partner in a CTP-led grand coalition was something spectacular and special, while the UBP and DP forging a coalition together cannot be considered anything extraordinary.

The grand coalition of the CTP and UBP was established almost a year ago after a CTP-DP-UG coalition collapsed after a traumatic confidence crisis between the two partners. The grand coalition was demanded by a very large segment of the Turkish Cypriot people in hopes that structural reforms could be far easily achieved and the Turkish Cypriot state could be ushered into far better economic and political governance which, with or without a settlement on the island, would be in the best interest of the Turkish Cypriot people. Thus, the pro-settlement CTP and the pro-separate state UBP managed to reconcile and form a grand coalition that they believed would help achieve the much needed structural reforms.

The failure to move an inch in achieving structural reforms, therefore, was the main reason behind the collapse of the CTP-UBP coalition and in that, unfortunately, far more than the UBP as the junior partner dragging its feet, it was the senior partner CTP that could not walk the painful road of reforms. Unfortunately, the hopes of many people, including this writer, that a grand left-right coalition would help achieve those fundamental reforms landed in bitter disillusionment. 

Obviously, no Turkish Cypriot individual or political party, including the UBP, can oppose a resolution of the Cyprus problem but preferences and priorities naturally differ. What is a resolution? While the CTP considered federation as the sole option for a settlement on the island, for the UBP, DP and other conservative groups and individuals there has always been at least two other resolution alternatives: confederation or the two state option. Well, for a small and negligible conservative group, there is also the “union with Turkey” option – very much like the existence of “union with Greece” supporters among Greek Cypriots – but as polls on both sides clearly demonstrated through the past decades, the second best option of both Turkish and Greek Cypriots was federation. Perhaps needless to say, the first option of most Greek Cypriots has been the preservation of the Greek-administered unitary state even if Turkish Cypriots reject it and stay in their enclave isolated from the world. That is, they have been happy with the status quo.

Now in northern Cyprus, there is a pro-settlement president in love with constantly empathizing with Greek Cypriots and a government that most likely will be pro-confederation. Obviously rules of democratic governance will apply. Northern Cyprus does not have presidential governance but the president has always been the “negotiator” on behalf of his people at the Cyprus talks. Yes, the president is entrusted with that “negotiator” role by the support of the legislature, but there has always been an acceptance in the Turkish Cypriot people that the president is the “leader” of northern Cyprus, irrespective of the ratio of votes that elected him to office. Thus, could there be a difficult cohabitation or could the president and the conservative coalition government be not so appreciative of the way the talks are conducted in the period ahead?

The first remarks of the president as well as Prime Minister Hüseyin Özgürgün and DSP leader and Deputy Prime Minister-Fiance Minister Serdar Denktaş, show that at least on the surface there would not be too many problems. Yet, from now on President Mustafa Akıncı will need to talk and get the government’s backing before making any gestures to the Greek Cypriot side. Could the new coalition government act with as much empathy to the Greek Cypriots as Akıncı has been doing? Definitely not. Özgürgün and Denktaş will at least ask the Greek Cypriot leader to demonstrate some gestures demonstrating he has empathy towards the Turkish Cypriot people. For example, if Greek Cypriot leader Nikos Anastasiades attends the commemoration of a National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters (EOKA) terrorist, there would definitely be fallout at the talks. Otherwise, Akıncı will lose the government’s support at the talks.

Former president and CTP leader Mehmet Ali Talat lamented a while ago that an UBP-DP coalition would aim to devastate the negotiations process. On the contrary, for the first time in many years, the northern negotiator would be compelled to demand “equal status” and “reciprocal empathy” in the Cyprus talks, consider the reaction of the Turkish Cypriot people and the government rather than wasting time in negotiation room with palliative discussions on non-important issues. 

Now, partnership in sovereignty, bi-zonality and bi-communality, handling property issue without diluting those principles and some other fundamental positions must make a return to the talks. Despite how difficult it might be, for a sustainable solution, this ought to be the case anyhow.