Is Turkey ‘fine-tuning’ Turkish Cyprus’ politics?

Is Turkey ‘fine-tuning’ Turkish Cyprus’ politics?

There were rampant speculations in North Cyprus this week that Turkey has started finetuning Turkish Cypriot politics ahead of the Oct. 11 scheduled presidential elections. It is no secret that Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have not been on good terms for a long period and that Ankara would prefer the incumbent be replaced with someone “who could work better” with Turkey.

Out of the blue, during the religious holiday period, an invitation was extended to Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister Ersin Tatar (leader of the National Unity Party), Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Kudret Özersay (Chairman of the People’s Party). The prime minister accepted the invitation, but the foreign minister said it was inappropriate to visit Ankara for political consultation when North Cyprus was heading to presidential elections and only a few days left to the start of electoral restrictions on Aug. 12.

Was Ankara unhappy with Özersay’s refusal of the invitation? According to some political sources, was in fact. But was it because Ankara invited besides Tatar leaders belonging to the two conservative small parties? Despite some claims, particularly Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was “heartbroken” with Özersay’s refusal of the Ankara invitation and subsequent media statement that he considered making such a trip inappropriate.

Talking with this writer, Tatar confirmed that he was unaware when he accepted the invitation and that the leaders of the two small parties were also invited. But in any case, he accepted the invitation to discuss economic measures to be taken and the 100-bed, fully equipped pandemic emergency hospital to be constructed and donated to North Cyprus by Turkey. “Indeed, that’s high on my agenda when I meet with President Erdoğan later today,” he said, talking with this writer early Wednesday.

Would that help eliminate claims that Ankara was trying to concoct a three-way coalition of Tatar’s UBP with the New Birth Party (YDP) – a party established by mainland settlers – and the Democrat Party (DP)? Tatar said while that issue was discussed in private between Turkish officials and the deputy president, but it didn’t come to light.

The polls show that incumbent Akıncı most likely will lead the first round, while who will be the second runner, can be unclear until the end of the vote count. Both Tatar and Özersay claim they will be successful and be the conservative candidate in the face-off while there is the possibility of the second leg of the poll to be contested by two leftist candidates, Akıncı and the leader of the socialist Republican Turks’ Party, Tufan Erhürman.

Ankara inviting Tatar and leaders of two conservative parties would have helped Akıncı and Erhürman, who both have been contesting on a platform demanding state-to-state relations with Ankara based on two equals, rather than the “motherland” and “kinderland” perception of the conservatives. In that regard, Özersay turning down Ankara’s invitation, while it might have upset Ankara, might indeed help him get an additional point or so in the election from the independence-obsessed sections of both the center-left and right.

Yet, by inviting Tatar and the two conservative political figures to Ankara, Turkey might have given a very wrong impression that it was fine-tuning Turkish Cypriot politics according to its expectations. But at the same time, it might have given a very sharp signal to the undecided conservatives that it firmly supported Tatar’s candidacy.

If Tatar wins, no problem. But if Tatar loses, will that be a defeat of Ankara’s Cyprus design as well?