Erdogan ally’s win in Turkish Cypriot election a blow for reunification

Surprise victory by nationalist Ersin Tatar could torpedo UN efforts to restart talks

The surprise victory by Ersin Tatar, Turkey's hardline nationalist ally, in the northern Cyprus presidential election could torpedo UN efforts to restart negotiations to reunite the divided island.

Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades congratulated Tatar (60), the Turkish Cypriot prime minister, on his win and urged him to re-engage in talks immediately, although he has sought to abandon the internationally mandated federal model for a deal.

Instead, Tatar calls for a "two state solution" involving acceptance of independence for the breakaway state in the north, which is recognised only by Turkey.

“It won’t be difficult to reach a settlement at the negotiating table if our friends the Greeks and Greek Cypriots properly analyse the strategic, economic and social balances in our region,” Tatar said, making it clear they must understand that Turkey is the dominant power.


Declaring that Turkish Cypriots would not “give up [their] rights”, he called on the UN and EU to make the shift to the “two state” model in future negotiations.

Overtly supported by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Tatar took 52 per cent of the vote, defeating incumbent Mustafa Akinci (72), who unsuccessfully negotiated on reunification in a bizonal, bicommunal federation, the solution backed by Greek Cypriots, Greece, the UN and EU.

“In Erdogan’s mind, the peace plan is finished. From now on, he favours partition! Perhaps even annexation!” Turkish columnist Fehim Tastekin wrote on the news website Gazete Duvar before the vote.

The election could have serious negative consequences for Cyprus, the eastern Mediterranean region, and the EU. If Tatar sticks to his line, Greek Cypriots could refuse to talk, finishing off prospects for reaching a political agreement for reuniting the island. Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey occupied the north following a failed coup by the Athens junta.

If federation is off the table, the status of Turkish Cypriots could be compromised. Those holding citizenship in the republic but residing in the north could find themselves in a bind once the EU no longer considers the whole island a member state and the north a territory outside the control of the Greek Cypriot-majority republic, which is an EU member.

Many Turkish Cypriots could move south to the republic or use their Cyprus/EU passports to emigrate.

There are about 130,000 Turkish Cypriots who have not already left the north and they are outnumbered by 185,000 mainland Turkish settlers whose votes may have contributed to Tata’s win. Turkey deploys up to 35,000 troops in the north, subsidises the economy and administration and provides advisers.

Emboldened by Tatar’s elevation, Erdogan could step up incursions in Cypriot and Greek territorial waters by oil and gas exploration and drill vessels, heating up tensions in the eastern Mediterranean. This would increase pressure on the EU to impose serious economic sanctions on Turkey.