Ankara and North Cyprus electioneering
As the scheduled April presidential elections are coming closer and pressure is building on presidential hopefuls to officially join the race, it is becoming clear that a multi-candidate process is shaping up. So far, officially two politicians have declared that they will be running for the presidency.
Socialist Republican Turkish Party (CTP) leader, former Prime Minister Tufan Erhürman was endorsed by his party despite earlier claims that he was not enthusiastic about the number one administrative seat of North Cyprus. There were intense efforts by President Mustafa Akıncı of the Communal Democracy Party (TDP) for the nomination of the incumbent as the candidate of the left. Akıncı has not announced yet whether he would seek reelection, but already started some sort of a public-financed election campaign through visits to villages, showing up at festivals and sipping black Turkish coffee at café houses filled with supportive groups. That is his typical Cypriot election campaign; it has long started.
On the nationalist flank, so far only centrist or patriotic leftist leader Kudret Özersay of the People’s Party declared his candidacy. But in announcing his candidacy, Özersay, a deputy premier and foreign minister, said he will be an independent candidate, not running on the party ticket.
New Birth Party (YDP) leader Erhan Arıklı has long declared his intention to run for the presidency but has not yet made an official announcement. His YDP – considered to be the party of mainland settlers – has been on the rise for some time and in a parliamentary election, it is claimed it might come out of the election box as one of the strongest parties of Turkish Cypriot parliament. But, will he be able to win the presidential contest, it appears very unlikely.
Serdar Denktaş, the son of the founding President Rauf Denktaş, has left leadership of his Democrat Party (DP) a while ago, a move considered by most analysts as an effort to become an “above parties” presidential candidate. He so far has not made a formal announcement on whether he will be running.
Yet another potential candidate, who until a few days ago appeared to be resolutely decided to run for the top post, is National Unity Party (UBP) leader and Prime Minister Ersin Tatar. While “king makers” in the UBP still exert all-out effort on Tatar to run for the presidency, in the political corridors of Ankara there are claims that at a recent meeting between Tatar, Özersay and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish president reminded the prime minister his assertions during talks on a financial support protocol with Turkey last autumn that his priority was to deal with the economic and administrative challenges in northern Cyprus and remain as head of government.
Turkey, on the other hand, has not yet released the financial assistance it pledged to extend to North Cyprus within that package, and there were claims that Tatar was explained he must forget the assistance if he decided to run for presidency.
At a time when Ankara has been in efforts to reassert its determination to protect its economic and strategic interests in eastern Mediterranean, expecting a “firm government” and a “cohesive president” might be what Ankara wanted to merge out from the presidential elections. In view of a rough ride of Akıncı with Ankara ever since he was elected president in 2015, Özersay or someone who might work more cohesively with Turkey might appear to be in Erdoğan’s best interest.
But if at the end of the day there are five centrist or center-right candidates and two leftist candidates, the second round might produce a leftist president if the second round is to be held between a conservative and a leftist “survivor” of the first round. Why? Even if Turkish Cypriots are predominantly centrist, while the left has developed the skill of uniting behind whichever leftist candidate manages to get to the second round, in the conservative flank rather than a conservative that managed to get to the second round, because of strong political infighting, often voting for the leftist candidate appears “wiser” than supporting a candidate sharing the same electoral base. That’s how the Nicosia mayoral post, repeatedly, and the presidency in 2015, was lost by the conservatives to the left.
Has Ankara really told Tatar he better stayed as prime minister? And if he did so that support coffers would be opened? Will Tatar decide to run for presidency? What will be the outcome should he walk such a road at the end of which he might not only fail to get elected president but lose prime ministry and party leadership as well?
With five centrist candidates, anyhow, there is a high possibility of total failure for the nationalists, as together with “escaped votes” the left might turn the second round into a contest between two leftist candidates that might emerge victorious from the first round.