Difficult choices await Cypriots

Difficult choices await Cypriots

There are elections in Cyprus this Sunday. In the southern “internationally recognized” Cyprus Republic, Greek Cypriots will vote in the second leg of the presidential elections and will decide between the center-right Nikos Anastasiades or the socialist, Stavros Malas. In the “only Turkey recognized” Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a few hundred delegates of the ruling National Unity Party (UBP) will vote in a court-ordered second round of voting for party leadership, thus ending a ten-month standoff between incumbent leader and Prime Minister İrsen Küçük and his contender, former interior minister Ahmet Kaşif.

Both of these elections will produce important results for the future of Cyprus. Depending on who will be elected in southern Cyprus, either a fresh window of opportunity for a painful compromise solution that might unveil the prospect of prosperity for both two peoples and beyond will be opened, or precious time will continue to be lost with the “blame the other” game, which Cypriots have become experts of anyhow.
My impression of Malas is of a soft-speaking man of peace, reason and integrity. Yet, like his socialist comrade outgoing President Demetris Christofias, I am afraid that he would not be able to offer a prescription to the worse-ever economic crisis in southern Cyprus, nor could he have the political courage to defy the “oxi front” at the end of the day. Could he deliver a compromise bi-zonal and bi-communal settlement based on political equality of the two peoples? No way. Indeed, he has been talking of restoring the Cyprus Republic by patching up the Turkish Cypriots “who abandoned it in 1964.” It’s bad for him, but such a position could not be even be a starter.

Anastasiades, on the other hand, is coming from the pragmatic Glafcos Clerides school of politics. He was the sole politician to support right to the end the 2004 Annan Plan, a U.N.-sponsored peace plan that was accepted by Turkish Cypriots but rejected by Greek Cypriots in separate referenda. His election alliance with some important dens of the “oxi front,” like the Democratic Party of the former president late Tassos Papadopoulos would make it difficult for him to negotiate a compromise settlement. However, until the start of the election campaign he was for a loose federation with two strong component states, a position that could make a lot of a difference in Cyprus peacemaking.

In any case, very difficult economic austerity decisions are awaiting the new president. However, even just the prospect of a resolution of the Cyprus problem could potentially solve all such problems, as - besides all other opportunities - a settlement that entails the opening of Turkish markets to Cypriots would create miracles.

In the north, on the other hand, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is continuing with a program of “zone cleansing” against the nationalists, who insist on not accepting the level of colonization aspired by the AKP. This reflects the political fight and the rigid polarization within the ruling UBP. On the one side there is Ankara-supported Prime Minister Küçük, on the other side there is President Derviş Eroğlu-supported Kaşif.

This will be a decisive turning point in Turkish Cypriot history. Should they be part of the overall conservative and religious culture that the AKP has been aspiring to export? Or should they maintain their distinct island culture, a mixture of Turkish, Greek and, of course, British cultural heritage?

I wish I could say more…