Akıncı won, what now?

Akıncı won, what now?

Everyone, from Greek Cypriot counterpart Nikos Anastasiades and party leaders to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, and the diplomatic community stationed in Cyprus, including British and American ambassadors as well as executives of the United Nations Cyprus team, celebrated president-elect Mustafa Akıncı of Northern Cyprus. 

In all congratulation messages, there was one thing in common: “The elections are over. We congratulate you for the outstanding electoral success. Now it is time not only to revive but fast-track the Cyprus peacemaking process stalled last October after the Greek Cypriot withdrawal.”

The Greek Cypriot leader has made this clear right from the start. He stressed not only his willingness to return to the talks but also, separate from the process, his readiness to discuss a set of confidence building measures, which ought to include the return of the Varosha suburb of Famagusta to its pre-1974 owners.

The once-upon-a-time sprawling touristic resort town has been a ghost city since the 1974 Turkish intervention. Though he did not say it explicitly during the election campaign, Akıncı was often quoted as if he was willing to compromise on Varosha. Anyhow, it was Akıncı who opposed Varosha remaining a ghost city, criticizing the policies of past conservative governments of keeping the town as a “hostage” to be used in the talks.

Will he now, as the “chief executive” of the Turkish Cypriot state, end the “hostage” status of Varosha and hand it over to Greek Cypriots bona fide, or will he, like his predecessors, link the handing over of the town to the overall settlement of the Cyprus problem? Anyhow, reliable information from the Greek side of the Cyprus divide keep whispering that Anastasiades prepared a “comprehensive unilateral confidence building package” to be unveiled before the resumption of the talks. Why? Obviously to shift the focus of pressure from the Greek side on to the new Turkish Cypriot leader, who, unlike his predecessor Dr. Derviş Eroğlu, has the image of “dove” or peace builder. That, of course, is largely a product of his successful cooperation with his Greek counterpart to solve the problems of Nicosia in the 1970s and 1980s, when he served 14 consecutive years as the mayor of the Turkish quarter in the divided capital.

Supporters of Akıncı, as well as an international army of peacemakers, hope that, with Akıncı in power, peacemaking on the island will become much easier while danger is dangling in the air. Akıncı has been away from active politics for more than a decade. His team is mostly composed of young people unaware of the delicacies and history of the Cyprus problem. Anastasiades might try to score an easy victory. If the Cyprus talks between the “novice” Akıncı team and a ravenous Anastasiades team somehow agree on a deal either completely on Greek Cypriot terms or very much satisfactory for Greek Cypriots, thus dangerously risking fundamental demands of the Turkish Cypriots, the whole process might be derailed in a manner very difficult to revive with extreme effort. For example, can Akıncı compromise on the presence of Turkey and its troops on Cyprus, a fundamental demand made by all Greek Cypriot politicians? Will he be able to accept the contentious cross voting, give up rotation of the presidency or accept single nationality and citizenship as demanded by Greek Cypriots?

If he does, will he be able to deliver such a deal or survive long enough politically to put any such deal to the vote of Turkish Cypriots?

With Akıncı, the demand for change has won in northern Cyprus, but as Birikim Özgür, a leading Turkish Cypriot left-wing politician has said, “To achieve change, changing the tenant of the presidential mansion is not enough.” What will happen to relations with Ankara? Will Akıncı be able to conduct a policy separate from Ankara in the Cyprus talks process? Can he indeed bypass Ankara and without coordinating with the Turkish Foreign Ministry Cyprus Desk, offer anything tangible to Greek Cypriots?

This will be a very difficult road to walk for Akıncı.