Sunday, 26 April 2015

Analysing the northern Cyprus presidential election

In my post earlier in the year about upcoming elections throughout Europe, I didn't include the presidential election which has been taking place amongst the Turkish Cypriots for the last week, on the not unreasonable basis that it isn't actually a real country. But now that it's been, I suppose I ought to write something about it.

The Turkish Cypriot regime is a semi-presidential system in which the President is head of the "state", and the prime minister head of the government, but in European terms the presidency is an exceptionally important office, given that part of the division of responsibilities renders the President as the plenipotentiary representative of the Turkish Cypriots to the international community, including - vitally - in negotiations regarding the Cyprus dispute.

In the first round of the presidentials, held last Sunday, a major reversal of power took place. The incumbent president, Dervis Eroglu, a one-term president who is a three-time former prime minister in the interest of the conservative and nationalist UBP (National Unity Party) failed to win the election outright as he did in 2010, and was forced into a run-off today/ Remarkably, the run-off was not against the favourite, Sibel Siber, of the socialist Republican-Turkish Party (CTP), but against independent candidate and former mayor of North Nicosia, Mustafa Akinci. 

Eroglu, the incumbent who technically sits as an independent, was endorsed by the Democratic Party, a reasonably powerful bloc with 16% of seats in the Legislative Assembly, a huge fillip to his campaign given the DP's association with founding president of the "republic", Rauf Denktash. 

His campaign was based on his being a safe pair of hands, and that his 2010-2015 administration had moved closer to finding a resolution to the Cyprus dispute. He publicly targeted a 55% share of the vote.

The election was fought for the right to fly this beezer of a flag
Siber is the current Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, and her campaign was based on her experience as a successful past prime minister, and the fact that, if successful, she would be the first female President of the Turkish Cypriots. She was endorsed by prime minister Ozkan Yorganciouglu and former prime minister Ferdi Sabit Soyer, and by former president Mehmet Ali Talat, who at a rally in North Nicosia claimed that Siber would win the campaign in the first round. This perceived sense of entitlement annoyed many Turkish Cypriot women who may otherwise have supported her, and was a major contributory factor in her being eliminated in the first round by only 4.759 votes (4,3%).

Akinci claimed that any backsliding on the Turkish position in the Cyprus dispute would be "submissiveness", and demanding a partnership of equals with the parts of Cyprus not under occupation. He supported Turkish Cypriot membership of international sporting organisations such as Uefa and the Olympic games, from which they are currently banned. The former deputy prime minister had other pledges, such as an all-Cyprus mobile telephone network, and opening the border at Lefka and Famagusta, reflecting other advances he has made in Greco-Turkish relations during his time as mayor of North Nicosia.

The results of the first round were:

Eroglu (National Unity party) 28,15% 30.328
Akinci (independent) 26,94% 29.030
Siber (Republican-Turkish party) 22,53% 24.271
Ozersay (independent) 21,25% 22.895
Kirdag (independent) 0,49% 530
Onurer (Cyprus Socialist party) 0,40% 428
Ulas (independent) 0,24% 259

This resulted in the elimination of Siber, Ozersay, Kirdag, Onurer and Ulas. The Republican-Turkish party, which had come third with more than a fifth of the vote, promptly endorses the second-place Akinci, leaving him (assuming all CTP voters followed the party's advice) only a few hundred votes short of victory in the second round. Ozersay took an awful huff at the results, refused to endorse anyone in the second round, said he didn't even want the position anyway, and claimed the polls were rigged. Kibris, the newspaper of record in Turkish-occupied Cyprus, described the results as a shock, and a surprise upset of the established power. 

The most important reaction to the result was the immediate announcement by the prime minister, Yorgancioglu, to resign over the shattering defeat for the Republican-Turkish party. 

The final round was held today, and the results have now been finalised. The incumbent president, Eroglu, won 39,50% of the vote, with 43.764 votes, coming a distant second to Akinci, the second-placed candidate in the first-round of voting, who won 67.035 votes (60,50%). Eroglu won the districts of Kyrenia, North Nicosia and Morphou, with Akinci taking Famagusta  and Trikomos.

Eroglu has conceded the presidency in the last hour, and has announced his immediate retirement from electoral politics, claiming that the election of an independent candidate showed that Turkish-Cypriots had sent a message of rejection to the political parties from which they ought to learn. 

Mustafa Akinci, the new president of the Turkish Cypriots
Akinci's record of helping Greco-Turkish relations during his 14-year tenure as Mayor of North Nicosia has led to early hopes that the Cypriot dispute may finally be resolved and peace break out in Cyprus: he previously led the Communal Democrats, a party which backed reunification of the island, and supported the UN-sponsored peace plan for reunification.

The plan was a proposal to restructure the island as a federal United Republic of Cyprus, encompassing both the present Republic of Cyprus and Turkish-occupied Cyprus, but omitting British-occupied Cyprus. A collective Presidential Council comprising four Greeks and two Turks and a bicameral legislature with both communities sending deputies based on their respective populations were to be the framework of the new State. Simultaneous referenda were held in the Republic and in Turkish-occupied Cyprus. While Ankara and North Nicosia supported the plan, it was strongly opposed by Athens and Nicosia (with George Papandreou of PA.SO.K beginning his ultimately politically-fatal spiral of unpopularity by backing the plan). On the day before the referendum, Tassos Papadopolous, the President of Cyprus, urged Cypriots to reject the plan, in a speech broadcast live on television. The Turkish prime minister, R.T. Erdogan, and the Turkish Cypriot prime minister favoured the plan, seeing it as a way to end the international isolation of Turkish Cypriots (international flights, for instance, are banned from landing on Turkish-occupied Cyprus) and their exclusion from the European economy.

Ultimately, Turkish Cypriots overwhelmingly backed reunification 64,91% to 35,09%, but Greeks opposed it 75,83% to 24,17%, and only the non-occupied portion of Cyprus joined the European Union.

With Greek Cypriots ending their boycott of peace talks, and a pro-reunification politician with an excellent track record of dialogue with Greek Cypriot diplomats in charge in North Nicosia, there is genuine hope in Ankara, Athens, Nicosia, and North Nicosia that this may finally be the year where peace returns to Cyprus and reunification may finally be achieved. 

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