‘Marginal’ controversy on Turkish Cyprus
Was Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister Ersin Tatar aware that President Mustafa Akıncı might be seriously offended when he told a press conference while describing efforts to revive the Cyprus talks with the intention of establishing a federation on the island as an idea supported by some marginal groups?
Obviously Akıncı was trying to make best use of the political climate and emerge as the strongest candidate supported by Turkey critics among Turkish Cypriots.
What did Tatar say? His words could be summarized as follows:
“If reference points could not be laid down. If we are faced with a process based on the [U.N. Secretary-General Antonio] Guterres document that was presented to sides after the unfortunate result obtained in Crans Montana [round of Cyprus talks], I must say I am, my party and the government are all against such a process. In Crans Montana [in June 2017], including Akıncı in all assessments it was underlined that all chances were exhausted for a federal resolution. Now, we are opposed to Akıncı’s efforts, with the backing of some minority and marginal groups, to revive talks from wherever they collapsed. Where such an exercise might lead us cannot be foreseen. Our state and sovereign rights must be protected. Now, time has come to talk on our equality in sovereignty [rather than political equality]. A two-state settlement, confederation, two states in the EU, or whatever in any settlement, one fundamental element must be the Turkish Cypriot sovereign state in North Cyprus. We cannot accept arguments that the guarantee system is outdated and cannot exist in the EU. That is not a roadmap that we can subscribe to under any condition. It is fundamental and under developments in eastern Mediterranean we need Turkey’s guarantee more than ever. Cyprus is a national issue. A majority of Turkish Cypriots think like that. Cyprus is a national issue and everything must be decided in close coordination and consultations. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that while he was in North Cyprus recently. We share the same opinion. No one can have the
right to take away this national issue according to his personal evaluations, assessments and designs and plunge into a dangerous adventure.”
As an experienced demagogue, Akıncı jumped onto the statement and accused the prime minister of using for the first time ever during a foreign trip unacceptable and utterly profane language against the president. He also stressed in social media messages that the “minority groups” that Tatar mentioned were indeed the majority of Turkish Cypriots.
Could this controversy indeed help Akıncı consolidate his position and bring him ahead of other presidential hopefuls, particularly socialist Republican Turks’ Party (CTP) leader Tufan Erhürman, ahead of the April vote? Friends in the CTP cautioned immediately after the statement of Tatar that “If nationalists and Turkey push harder to marginalize Akıncı, he will be very happy of playing the role of the grieved and anti-Turkey figure. He is energized with such attacks.”
Probably the controversy might help Akıncı for a while but after the dust and storm settles he might be the real loser of this controversy as he, for the first time in months, hinted at his anti-Turkey political positioning.
The other side of the coin is equally problematic. Tatar is being pushed by his opponents in the National Unity Party (UBP) to become a presidential candidate. If he accepts, he might win the first round but he will be short of 50 percent plus required to win straight. In the second round he would need the support of other nationalist groups, particularly the support of his government partner the People’s Party (HP) of Foreign Minister Kudret Özersay. So far, so good. The present coalition was built on a verbal understanding that Tatar would become prime minister, would not run for the presidency and even if Tatar could not manage to convince his party to support Özersay in the elections, if Özersay succeeded to the second round the UBP would support him. If Tatar runs for president and wins election in the first vote, no problem, but if he goes to the second round most likely will have to embrace a humiliating defeat.
Could his opponents in the UBP believe they have a win-win situation? If Tatar is elected he will be elevated to presidency and leave the party to them, if he fails to get elected he will be a political corpse anyhow.