‘Normalization’ in Cyprus

‘Normalization’ in Cyprus

Even when looking from Turkey, it’s a bit difficult to understand, but the perception, expectation and practice of democracy in Northern Cyprus is rather different. There are, for one, some anomalies, such as the fact that the Security Forces Command, rather than civilian authorities, oversee both the police and firefighting departments, as well as the absence of a Justice Ministry. But even though investigations regarding politicians or certain political subjects might require authorization from the government, the judicial system, if not independent, does enjoy an advanced degree of autonomy.

Naturally, because of the territory’s small population and personal connections between almost everyone, these close relationships have an impact on the “impartiality” of even the top judges. Could it be possible, for example, for a top judge who, a few decades previously, was the lawyer of a young mayor, to impartially deliver a verdict that might have a serious impact on the political future of that person? To say “Not at all, the top judge shall definitely be impartial” one must be acutely naïve.

Despite the clear stipulation of the Turkish Cypriot constitution that a presidential term shall expire no later than the fifth anniversary of the start of the term in question, all political parties in parliament, excluding the New Birth Party, decided to postpone presidential elections scheduled for April 28 by six months and asked the president to stay on for that period because of the Covid-19 epidemic. However, the speaker of parliament may serve as acting president until elections are held. Another constitutional stipulation that the speaker can be acting president for six weeks at most was used as the alibi for the legally suspect extension of current President Mustafa Akıncı’s term.

As Akıncı himself has acknowledged publicly that the extension of his term violates the constitution, he must step down to ensure political normalization. Otherwise, the High Court, which has decided to “indefinitely postpone” the debates “until a verdict is produced” on an appeal by the New Birth Party on the issue, must urgently deliver that annulment decision. It would be a gross injustice if Akıncı’s former lawyer stalls now as the presiding judge of the High Court in handing down a decision on the issue until after elections are held on Oct. 11.

The presidential elections will be a grand step toward political normalization and probably terminate the current standoff between the presidency and the government. Obviously, tensions will build up in time again and could be permanently resolved if either the presidency retreats to its figurative ceremonial role – as was foreseen in the constitution – or Northern Cyprus moves toward presidential rule, like Greek Cypriots.

Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister Ersin Tatar has been proudly declaring the great success of his government against the Covid-19 epidemic by immediately closing down the land crossings to Greek Cypriot southern Cyprus, as well as flights to the world via Turkey. His government must be congratulated for that, definitely. If no new cases have been reported for almost two months, the time must be ripe to make courageous, but calculated openings. Border crossings, for example, should be considered. On the Greek side, however, there are new cases almost every day. The crossings perhaps must be opened with tighter controls, as was foreseen by the Greek Cypriot side as well. But despite pressures from Akıncı that crossings should be opened immediately, the government was right to set the date as July 1. In the meantime, however, exceptional flights carrying the son of a casino owner, or experts to conduct research for a marina to be built by the same hotelier, are really bad optics for the premier and his government. There should be no “more equal animals.”

Normalization, of course cannot be achieved on Cyprus by opening land crossings and resuming flights. The greatest anomaly is a product of the March 1964 U.N. decision that, in dispatching peacekeepers to end attacks on the Turkish Cypriot people, it contravened the founding agreements and constitution of Cyprus by recognizing, “out of necessity,” the all-Greek government in southern Cyprus as the island’s sole legitimate government, thereby leaving Turkish Cypriots out in the cold.

For a real normalization on Cyprus, the United Nations must rescind that unfortunate decision, which has been one of the reasons why all Cyprus settlement efforts have failed until now.