Turkish Cypriots back at polls as reunification talks hang in balance

Re-election of Akinci would reboot UN-brokered talks on bi-zonal bi-communality

Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci: Liberal, secular Turkish Cypriots resent Ankara’s interference in their affairs. Photograph: Birol Bebek

Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci: Liberal, secular Turkish Cypriots resent Ankara’s interference in their affairs. Photograph: Birol Bebek

 

The fate of UN-brokered negotiations to reunite divided Cyprus could be decided when Turkish Cypriots return to the polls to elect a new president on October 18th.

If incumbent Mustafa Akinci wins re-election, UN-facilitated talks could resume on the internationally mandated formula of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. While casting his ballot on Sunday, he said, “This election is crucial for our destiny.”

If his Turkey-backed nationalist rival, prime minister Ersin Tatar, is victorious, Greek Cypriots are certain to reject his call for talks on the basis of a “two-state solution” involving acceptance of the unilaterally-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Turkey.

Federal solution

The two surviving candidates have to go to a second round as neither received half the vote in a field of 11. Mr Tatar, a right-wing nationalist, won 32.5 per cent of the vote and Mr Akinci, a social democrat, won nearly 30 per cent. Third-placed opposition leader Tufan Erhurman, who garnered 20 per cent, is likely to support MrAkinci since both favour the federal solution.

The first-round result mirrors that of 2015 when Mr Akinci won 27 per cent and his rival 28 per cent. In the previous second round, Mr Akinci took 60 per cent.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan had expected MrTatar would receive a boost from the pre-election reopening of the beach of the abandoned Greek Cypriot Varosha suburb of Famagusta in the northern 36 per cent of the island , which was occupied in 1974 by Turkey following a failed Greek coup.

The island has been divided since then between the Greek Cypriot majority Cyprus republic, an EU member, and the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state.

Turkey’s disputes

The winner will come under international pressure to resume negotiations with Greek Cypriots that would also involve Turkey, Greece and Britain. He will have to deal with tensions arising from Turkey’s disputes with Cyprus and Greece over natural gas and oil exploration and exploitation rights in the eastern Mediterranean.

And, he will come under domestic pressure to loosen ties with Turkey , which deploys more than 30,000 troops in northern Cyprus and subsidises its administration.

Liberal, secular Turkish Cypriots resent Ankara’s interference n their affairs, especially efforts to promote conservative religious practices and values. If Ankara tightens its grip, many Turkish Cypriots argue members of their community who have citizenship in the republic would move there or emigrate, leaving northern Cyprus to mainland settlers who would transform it into to a province of Turkey.