Election frenzy in Northern Cyprus
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus will go to polls on Jan. 7, 2018 to elect members of the 50-seat unicameral Republican Assembly. Parliamentary hopefuls are abundant. Elections have become even more important because of the anticipation that once parliamentary elections in the north and presidential elections in Greek Cypriot Southern Cyprus are over there will be a new push for a Cyprus settlement.
After two years of intense talks and a series of summits and a five-party conference (with the participation of guarantor powers Turkey, Britain and Greece) in Switzerland, the most recent talks collapsed over contradicting positions on power-sharing, security and guarantees.
“A last attempt by our generation failed … Hope to solve the Cyprus problem now lies with the next generations,” Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı solemnly declared recently. International mediators must have convinced the romantic Turkish Cypriot leader. He has started maneuvering for a new round of talks, which could start as early as March, weeks after the Greek Cypriot presidential elections.
Was it a political gimmick for Özdil Nami when he told Reuters last week that Cyprus talks could resume only if the “political status” of Turkish Cypriots is addressed, should the new talks fail? Nami, Turkish Cyprus’ chief negotiator and a parliamentary hopeful on the socialist Republican Turks’ Party (CTP) ticket, has been a leading federalist, like Akıncı. However, a federal solution no longer has much attraction for Turkish Cypriots disgruntled with the constant rejection of political equality by the Greek Cypriot side.
A motion presented in parliament at the end of last month by a group of 19 conservative parliamentarians ruling out federation with Greek Cypriots as a settlement option and demanding the continuation of talks between the two sides of Cyprus has put the government and the president at loggerheads. The motion was referred to a parliamentary commission and thus postponed until after the elections.
Conservative segments of Turkish Cypriot society accuse the ruling coalition government’s junior partner - the Democrat Party (DP) of Serdar Denktaş - of bowing to pressure and not standing firm behind the move as he earlier pledged. At the parliamentary commission, the National Unity Party (UBP) of Prime Minister Hüseyn Özgürgün had two deputies, the main opposition socialist CTP had two members, and the fifth deputy was from the DP.
However, after the DP’s panjandrum education minister decided to run in elections on the UBP ticket, Denktaş expelled him from the party and the DP went down to four deputies. Five are needed in order to be represented in parliamentary commissions, so the parliamentary legal commission to decide on whether the motion by 19 deputies should be urgently negotiated was left with four members - the opposition and the government tied with two each – thus making it impossible to make a decision on anything.
The Cyprus problem has always played a role in election campaigns of North Cyprus. This time it appears that the whole election campaign will be dominated by the conundrum. Accused by conservative groups of “surrendering” to Turkey and the federalists, the DP is at risk of falling under the five percent parliamentary threshold. Though it started to pick up, the CTP is still suffering from the gross mismanagement it engaged in while in government. It has also been going through pains of restructuring around a new leader, Tufan Ergürman. The party has apparently picked up considerably since the leadership change, though its commitment to a federal settlement might be a strength or weakness. In the latest polls the party is second behind the UBP.
Meanwhile, the Peoples’ Party (HP) of Kudret Özersay, a former negotiator under the presidencies of Derviş Eroğlu and Mehmet Ali Talat, has been coming in strong in the center-right lane. The HP may indeed be the surprise element of the election. Its leader Özersay has strong public support and if the candidate lists of the party addresses the expectations of the public it could well emerge strongly from its first election test. In any case, in the post-Jan. 7 period the HP is expected to be the new “king maker” of Turkish Cypriot politics.
The HP, like the UBP, says that the most recent round of Cyrus talks shows that neither the federal option nor the communal negotiations position will help reach a Cyprus resolution. The HP stresses that the best and most viable solution to the Cyprus question may be “two states in the EU.”