Turkish Cypriots head to ballots amid pandemic, Varosha row

Turkish Cypriots head to ballots amid pandemic, Varosha row

Turkish Cypriots head to ballots amid pandemic, Varosha row

Turkish Cypriots head to the polls on Oct. 11 to elect the person who will lead them for the next five years after months of delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Higher Election Board (YSK) in Turkish Cyprus has announced that a total of 198,867 people are eligible for voting at a total of 738 polling stations in the elections in which 11 candidates are expected to battle it out.

Turkish Cypriots will elect their president in a two-round election. If a candidate fails to appear as the front-runner in the first round, the second round will take place between only two of the leading candidates.

Although the number of candidates is relatively high, the polls have already signaled the two favorites, with those leading being incumbent President Mustafa Akıncı and Prime Minister Ersin Tatar.

Akıncı is in favor of restarting U.N.-brokered peace negotiations and reunifying Cyprus as a bizonal and bicommunal federation. He also advocates the continuation of relations with Ankara on the basis of equality and brotherhood rather than the motherland - “baby land” understanding.

Tatar does not explicitly oppose a federal solution, but he underlines that a possible settlement on the island should be on a two-state basis. In contrast to his main rival Akıncı, Tatar also believes that much closer ties should be established with the Turkish government.

Other candidates include main opposition leader Tufan Erhürman, the country’s Foreign Minister Kudret Özersay, Turkish Cyprus’ founding leader Rauf Denktaş’s son, Serdar Denktaş, as well as Rebirth Party (YDP) Head Erhan Arıklı.

But hours before the election, the main debates in the north of the island are on the opening of the coastal ghost town of Varosha to civilians and the government crisis that followed.

In a joint press conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to celebrate the repairing of the Turkey-Northern Cyprus water pipeline, Tatar announced that the Turkish Cypriot government would reopen Varosha, which had been abandoned since a Turkish military intervention to stop a Greek-inspired coup 46 years ago.

The decision drew opposition from within the ruling coalition, which saw the People’s Party (HP) withdraw from the government after the surprise announcement. Özersay, the former leader of HP, pulled his support after he was reportedly not consulted by Tatar on the developments over the plans.

“Those who did politics in Turkish Cyprus and ignored the will of the people remained at the ballot box in the past and will get buried in the ballot box,” Özersay said, implying that the opening of the resort town is an electoral move.

Apart from Özersay, Erhürman and Denktaş also drew attention to the allegations of “outside intervention.”

Akıncı also said in a TV interview that in his 45 years in politics, he has never seen so much intervention. He reiterated his claim that Turkey’s Lefkoşa Embassy has been turned into a campaign team rallying against him.

The embassy denied Akıncı’s claims that Turkey intervened in the presidential elections.

“The claims made are reflections of the adoption of creating an opposition with Turkey as an electoral strategy,” it said in a written statement.

Estimating that the turnout will be low due to the pandemic, political experts predict that no candidate will reach the 50 percent band in the first round.

A second vote is scheduled to take place on Oct. 18, if deemed necessary.