Northern Cyprus in crisis of government

Northern Cyprus in crisis of government

The left-right grand coalition government in northern Cyprus has collapsed due to its failure to deliver on exactly what it promised to do in the first place: undertake long-overdue reforms and achieve the restructuring of the Turkish Cypriot public administration. Was it a big surprise? Unfortunately, no.

Grand coalitions are peculiar and difficult undertakings in politics. On the one hand, failure would consolidate marginal parties, as the strongest parties on both the left and right spectrum might be compelled to shoulder the burden of the failure together. On the other hand, when both left and right can no longer be the alternative of the other or if and when people develop the perception that there is no longer any hope on outstanding problems, a search starts for “untested” alternatives. Thus, once such coalitions fail, marginal parties emerge as the new hope of the country. Remember what happened in 1999-2001 in Turkey and how the Islamist and rather marginal Justice and Development Party (AKP) came out of nowhere 13 years ago to gain power with a landslide and gradually consolidate itself as a majoritarian government.

In northern Cyprus, the problem was the “incompatible DNA” between the two partners. The senior coalition partner, the socialist Republican Turks’ Party (CTP), was hesitant in engaging with Turkey. Very rarely did it consider Turkey a “motherland” trying to help Turkish Cypriots. From Turkey’s guarantor status to the military presence on the island to monetary contributions to the Turkish Cypriot budget, the CTP had a different approach than the smaller partner, the National Unity Party (UBP), which has always considered Turkish Cypriots and Turkey as “mother and daughter.”

The first crack in the coalition came when Turkey sought a government-to-government agreement on the distribution of the water provided from the mainland. In effect, what Turkey demanded was the privatization of the water distribution system. The CTP objected because such a move would leave CTP municipalities without one key resource: Water revenues. Up until now, municipalities were receiving water from the water works authority at almost no cost, selling it onto people and thus financing their municipalities. Privatization would be dreadful for mayors who would be compelled to find new sources of financing. It took months to negotiate the distribution agreement, and eventually with the UBP wing pressing the coalition, they made a deal that was not much different than what Turkey originally asked for.

Because of the problem over water, the financial protocol – which was to enter into force in January 2016 – could not even be discussed. As Turkey did not provide fresh “loans” – a de facto donation – and stopped its contribution to the financing of the Turkish Cypriot defense network as well, the north entered into a financial crisis, as salaries could not be paid in full in April. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The UBP said “enough, we’re pulling out.”

Of course, there was the other side of the coin as well. While the CTP wing of the government was failing badly, the UBP wing was prospering. The Democrat Party-National Forces alliance of Serdar Denktaş collapsed and some local organizations and two deputies started flirting with the UBP. One former DP minister was even attending local organization meetings of the UBP. With the CTP having 20 seats in Parliament and the UBP soon moving from 18 toward 21, it was obvious that the UBP would try to bring down the coalition and form a new one under its own prime ministry.

The UBP’s behind-the-scenes leader, former President Derviş Eroğlu, has some serious “personal problems” with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. But the UBP’s new leader, Hüseyin Özgürgün, was having problems with Eroğlu as well. Would the Turkish leader agree to a “deal” that might consolidate Özgürgün in the Turkish Cypriot right as the new leader? That’s of course another issue, but at least for this writer, Özgürgün does not appear as someone with the adequate capacity to undertake such a role. Still, the cards on the table show that at least until a new election – probably in April next year – there might be a new nationalist coalition led by Özgürgün in between the UBP and Denktaş Jr.’s DP. Such a government would muster only 26 seats in the 50-seat Turkish Cypriot legislature and would be very vulnerable. That is why it ought to be an election government, the success of which might help unify the right as well. Even if an organic unity cannot be achieved, an election alliance of the two parties of the Turkish Cypriot right would ensure at least 30 of the 50 seats in the next parliament.

Of course, all this is very bad news for President Mustafa Akıncı and his tolerant attitude at the Cyprus talks. At a time when Greek Cypriots are calling for new tenders for gas exploration – a move undermining partnership with the Turkish Cypriots – a national coalition might prove a real headache for Akıncı to stay at the negotiation table despite all the Greek Cypriots’ provocative actions.