Election, referendum or both?

Election, referendum or both?

It is not yet certain when the two people of Cyprus will be asked to go to separate simultaneous referenda to vote on an agreement uniting the divided island in a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation. Indeed, as for now, it is not certain either if there ever will be an accord to crown the almost 50 years of intercommunal talks. Yet, at least in the northern Turkish Cypriot side of the island, the naysayer and yea-sayer blocks have started to coalesce.

Started to coalesce? Perhaps that was an understatement. For many Turkish Cypriots, probably headed by Deputy Prime Minister Serdar Denktaş, it was clear when Mustafa Akıncı was elected as Turkish Cypriot president in April 2014 that he could not negotiate a deal that would deliver a majority of Turkish Cypriots’ expectations from a deal with Greek Cypriots. Prejudice or foresight?

Denktaş, the son of former Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktaş, denied accusations that he launched a campaign against a settlement negotiated by Akıncı. He said he personally did not believe Akıncı and his negotiating team could bring a resolution safeguarding the rights and security of the Turkish Cypriot people. He said his declaration that he would vote “no” was just a personal assessment and that he would decide whether to launch a “no campaign” only if Akıncı and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades managed to complete an agreement but that an examination revealed that it fell short of meeting the conditions merited for a “yes” vote.

As complicated as it might appear, indeed the Turkish Cypriot naysayers appear pretty convinced – or perhaps prejudiced – that Greek Cypriots will neither ever agree to Turkey’s continued guarantor status nor engage in an effective power-sharing scheme even if a deal is possible on the territorial dimension of the problem.

 Furthermore, repetitious statements by both the Greek side and Akıncı’s administration regarding the unhindered application of the so-called four rights (right to own property, establish businesses, travel and reside) for all Cypriots on the island would effectively scuttle the bi-zonality and bi-communality of the federation to be established.

The negotiators of the two sides returned to talks after the repeat fiascos at the talks in Mont Pelerin, Switzerland, last month. The Mont Pelerin round ended with the Turkish Cypriot side placing a surprisingly low 29.2 percent territorial share proposal on the table and the Greek Cypriot leader, experiencing difficulty in making a decision alone, asked for a recess and got it. In between the first and second Mont Pelerin rounds, Anastasiades consulted with party leaders on the Greek side and discussed the developments with Greece. At the Athens talks, a new condition was put on the table. Greece said they would agree to attend a five-party conference of the Turkish and Greek Cypriot people in addition to Turkey, Greece and Britain, the three guarantors, on the sole condition of liquidating the guarantee system. As guarantees constituted the most important red line for Turkish Cypriots, it was certain that the second Mont Pelerin session would collapse.

Because the talks collapsed due to the different opinions between the two sides on the guarantee issue, if the talks were to reconvene, would it not be normal for them to resume with a five-party conference? However, talks resumed between the two countries’ teams to “prepare ground” for a third Mont Pelerin session which would convene on Jan. 9 and continue until Jan. 11, 2017, when the two sides place their territorial map offers on the negotiating table; an international conference would then convene one day later. Who will attend the international conference? The five parties, or the 5+EU and the U.N. Security Council members?

 Will the five parties sit in the first row as participants, with the rest to attend as observers or consultants to be consulted if needed?

Those questions are yet to be answered. But in the meantime, the negotiating teams of the two sides have resumed meetings behind closed doors.

Obviously, Anastasiades has been trying to build his re-election campaign rather than trying to solve the Cyprus problem. Was he trying to solve the Cyprus problem, or was he trying to create an image of a leader who made Turks compromise so much without him actually making any comprehensive concession in any area? For example, did he clarify his position on a rotating presidency that he has been insisting on for months, saying it was a fundamental requirement of the deal? Or did he ever clarify how Turkish Cypriot participation in governance will be “effective and meaningful” so as to demonstrate “the equal partnership of the two founding entities in governance?”

If the second Mont Pelerin collapsed over nothing, or if the collapsed talks could be salvaged over a dinner, than what might be behind this game? Or, did Akıncı really agree to give Morphou (Güzelyurt) to the Greek Cypriots, place a large area of the Karpassia Peninsula under federal governance and reduce the Turkish Cypriot territory to a much lower percentage?

It is obvious that the target of a “deal by the end of 2016” that Akıncı was so happy to repeat day and night is now dead and buried. Now, there is a January 2017 target. The atmosphere on the island, however, is that the “open-ended negotiations” era has made a comeback… Such a situation, unfortunately, best serves Anastasiades’ re-election expectations…

In the north, however, a political crisis is brewing, and an early election is appearing on the horizon for spring. Will it be a referendum and an election, or just an election? That will become clear, hopefully on Jan. 12, when the international conference gets underway.