A pluralist debate in Turkish Cyprus
Like it or not, there is a working democracy in North Cyprus. For more than five hours, one after the other, an array of politicians grilled Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı and his position at the faltered Cyprus talks.
It was a closed parliamentary session demanded by the parliamentarians so that the president explains in detail what has been going on diplomatically behind closed doors. What opposition leaders and deputies exactly told Akıncı are of course “state secrets” as well as a verbatim account of the statement of the president and his responses to the questions. Yet, as often said, nothing remains a secret in Cyprus for more than a few hours. Moments after Akıncı emerged out from the meeting, news was already around every corner of the island that he tried to explain to deputies that he was trying to achieve what is attainable, and many deputies accused him of not being visionary, constantly walking in Greek shoes, or even trying to serve Greek Cypriot interests and forgetting his constitutional duty that he has been paid for: Serving Turkish Cypriot interests. The leaders of all center-right or conservative parties spoke during the closed-door session, as well as most of the 35 right-wing seats in the 50-member parliament. They were all critical, including the leaders of the two parties, which are members of the ruling four-way left-right coalition government. Yet, what was rather interesting was to hear from people with insight of what happened during the closed session that Prime Minister Tufan Erhürman, a committed federalist too, harshly accused Akıncı of following an autocratic leadership, not engaging the government in the decision-making and trying to stage a one-man show in the Cyprus talks process.
Erhürman is not someone new in politics. He was a member of the negotiations team during the presidency of Mehmet Ali Talat. Amid the thunders in the Republican Turks’ Party (CTP) over political line as well as leadership, he successfully defeated the heavy guns of the socialist flank, who have always had very intimate relations with the Greek Cypriot Progressive Party of Working People (Akel), and climbed to the top echelon of the party. Yet, until very recently, he was considered a lame duck transitional leader to be eventually toppled by Asım Okansoy or someone the pro-Akel group decided on. However, within the past two weeks he started demonstrating qualified leadership behavior. He, for example, publicly opposed a leftist teachers’ union woman boss when she made some offensive and insulting remarks at a gathering at the Nicosia buffer zone against the Turkish Cypriot state and Turkey. He was also straight to the point in stressing at a recent Ankara gathering that consolidating the Turkish Cypriot state is a must irrespective of whether Cyprus talks might succeed or fail. These and similar developments showed that Erhürman might enter the race for presidency in 20 months’ time while rumors are spreading that Akıncı might accept defeat in his Cyprus federation efforts and go back to his California retreat once his tenure is over.
With two center-right leaders of the four-way coalition, as well as the leftist premier critical of the way he has been continuing the talks, it must be frustrating for Akıncı to try to stand tall during the closed session. He even pledged at one point that once he meets with Nikos Anastasiades at a “social get-together” on Feb. 26 evening, and later with a special Cyprus adviser of the U.N. secretary-general, he will come back to brief the parliamentarians before committing himself and Turkish Cypriots to any new undertaking.
I cannot imagine, unfortunately, a similar debate in many legislatures in this region. It is vivid, free and pluralistic.