Crucial Sunday for Cyprus

Crucial Sunday for Cyprus

After the Oct. 11 inconclusive first vote, two frontrunners of the first round will contest this Sunday for the seat of the president of the Northern Cyprus. One of them is incumbent socialist Mustafa Akıncı, a pro-federalist and the other is conservative National unity Party (UBP) leader and prime minister, Ersin Tatar, a supporter of a two-state settlement on the island.

Northern Cyprus is recognized only by Turkey and its economic survival largely depends on strong financial assistance from Ankara. Particularly over the past few years since the collapse of the Cyprus talks at Crans Montana in July 2017, there has been a rift between Akıncı and the Turkish leadership and at several occasions. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu publicly accused the Turkish Cypriot leader of not telling the truth and betraying the fundamentals of the Cyprus talks position on which Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot government has established full understanding.

Interestingly, while Ankara has been actively supporting Tatar, mathematics on the ground indicate most likely that Akıncı might win a second term in office. What would be the impact of such an awkward situation, particularly, if Akıncı has been supportive of the Greek Cypriot’s demand to resume the Cyprus talks from where they collapsed in the summer of 2017, while Ankara and Turkish Cypriot conservatives say that before any new round of talks, the two sides on the island, the U.N. secretary-general and the three guarantor powers should come together at an informal summit to decide a new target and modality for the process as 60 years of talks in the previous format were proven doomed to fail.

Nasraddin Hodja, the great medieval folk hero of this region, is often said to have added some yeast to Akşehir Lake with the aim of turning it into a huge bowl of yoghurt. That, however, might have a greater chance of becoming reality than Greek Cypriots agreeing to share the island, its administration and sovereignty with Turkish Cypriots on the basis of political equality, bi-zonality and bi-communality.

Another Nasreddin Hodja joke stresses that rather than who deserves or who should have something, “whoever pays for it blows the whistle.” Turkish Cypriots apparently disagree. Or do they really disagree? We shall see that in Sunday’s second round of voting. Would the electorate support an Akıncı who has been constantly in a rebellious mood against Turkey or a Tatar who has been in a full allegiance mode with the Turkish leadership?

Interestingly in the first round of voting in Nicosia, Kyrenia, Morphou (Güzelyurt), mostly populated by Turkish Cypriots, Akıncı came first, while he came third in the Iskele electoral district and second in Famagusta, whereas Tatar came first in both of those districts. What was the peculiarity of those two districts? Most mainland Turks who have acquired citizenship of the Turkish Cypriot state were living in those two districts. This is to say that the move to open the Varosha beach to the public, which is still under military control, as well as a ceremony to mark the resumption of water flow from the mainland through a repaired pipeline -- both actions that opponents have declared as Turkish manipulation in favor of Tatar -- have played well in those two regions.

Could Tatar manage to maintain his lead and win the presidency on Sunday? Indeed very difficult as the Republican Turks’ Party, whose candidate Tufan Erhürman came third with almost 22 percent of the vote in the first vote – decided to support Akıncı in Sunday’s election. Tatar’s victory hinges on his success to convince the almost 47 percent electorate, mostly disgruntled conservatives, who boycotted the first vote to go to the ballot box this Sunday and vote for him. Most of those people, however, were Turkish Cypriot nationalists who considered as manipulation and angered with Turkey’s strong support for Tatar. Could they be convinced to go to the polls and vote for Tatar? Very unlikely.

Thus, most likely, as was the case in the 2015 election, Akıncı will come back from the second position with the support of other socialists, social democrats and Turkish Cypriot nationalists and win a second term in office with over 65 percent of the vote.

In that case, how will a consolidated Akıncı presidency, continued budgetary dependency on Turkey and confronting political objectives between Akıncı, the majority in Turkish Cypriot Parliament, and the Ankara government cohabitate and contribute to any effort aimed at resolving the Cyprus problem?

Turkish Cyprus,