Interest in voting in the European elections is growing in the north of Cyprus, as a record number of Turkish Cypriots have submitted their candidacy for the ballot on 26 May.
A feeling that Turkish Cypriots should be represented in the institutions of the European Union has gained ground in recent years and this is being expressed with vivid debates been held in the community over the Turkish Cypriot candidates.
With some 90,000 registered on a special electoral catalogue who have the right to vote in the upcoming elections, Turkish Cypriots have the opportunity to shape, to some extent, the outcome of the Cyprus elections by even electing a MEP.
The community’s interest in this year’s election is indicated in the record number of Turkish Cypriot candidates, with leftwing party AKEL including a Turkish Cypriot academic on its ticket.
While University of Cyprus professor Niyazi Kizilyurek has joined main opposition party AKEL’s ticket, there are six other Turkish Cypriot candidates.
One of the most prominent is the publisher of Afrika newspaper, Sener Levent, a fierce critic of Turkey and its current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s intervention in the north.
Talking to the Financial Mirror, a Turkish Cypriot political analyst and consultant at the PRIO Cyprus Centre, Mete Hatay, said increased interest in the European elections, comes as a result of a prevailing sentiment that Turkish Cypriots need to make their voices heard in the European Union.
“This does not mean that it has become a majority wave in society, but representation of Turkish Cypriots in the European Community has certainly been put on the agenda,” said Hatay.
He expects a bigger turnout of Turkish Cypriots than the last Euro parliament elections in 2014 when only some 2,000 Turkish Cypriot had voted.
The analyst said a growing pro-EU drive among Turkish Cypriots coupled with strong Turkish Cypriot candidates will push a higher number of people to the polls.
He noted that Niyazi Kizilyurek is highly respected in the north for his struggle for reunification and the adoption of a bizonal, bicommunal federal solution based on political equality.
“On the other hand, you have the ticket with also respected names, led by Sener Levent known for his clashes with Turkey. Levent, although not viewed with sympathy by a large part of the community, there is a significant number who look up to him and would vote for him in a European Parliament election,” said Hatay.
He said that a big part of the Turkish Cypriot political system, mainly the centre-right, is sceptical over Turkish Cypriot participating in the ballot, as they see a conspiracy being played out between parties in the north and the Republic.
“They stress that voting in the European elections will not represent Turkish Cypriots, but will, instead, harm them as they say that this will be an election controlled and determined by the Greek Cypriots,” said Hatay.
However, political actors in the north are campaigning for Kizilyurek and Levent.
A significant proportion of Turkish Cypriot society perceives participation in the European elections as an anti-nationalist gesture.
“Let us not forget that this is the only election in Cyprus’ history where Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots could vote for each other, can campaign asking for the other’s vote…with the people also putting forward their demands and concerns,” noted Hatay.
Unable to make an estimate on the number of Turkish Cypriots expected to vote in the elections, Hatay recalled bureaucratic issues arising during the Euro Elections in 2014 which prevented many Turkish Cypriots from voting five years ago, when some 30,000 were not included automatically on a special register set up by the Republic as previously regulated.
At the time, some claimed that the problem was due to blunders made by civil servants as when Turkish Cypriots filled out applications to obtain Republic of Cyprus ID cards, information was transferred to the government database incorrectly.
It seems officials instead of putting the applicants’ residential addresses, they put their place of birth.
Hatay said that there is still an issue with some 16,000 Turkish Cypriots who have not been included on the register as yet.
Talking to the Financial Mirror, AKEL MEP candidate Kizilyurek agreed that just the fact that Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots are working together under the same ticket says a lot. “They are working together, campaigning on the streets, unity in action.”
He said that Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots campaigning together sends a message that they can and want to live together.
“More importantly they are sending out a message that we can work together and share power. At a time when Turkish Cypriots have their legitimate reasons to believe that President Anastasiades is not willing to share power, my candidacy comes as an answer,” said Kizilyurek.
“If I am elected, AKEL will not only be sharing power with a member of the Turkish Cypriot community but also with someone who is not a part of the party,” he added.
The UCY professor, however, stressed that his aim is not to be elected as a representative of the Turkish Cypriot community, but a supporter of certain ideas, with support for a federal solution to the Cyprus Problem taking centre stage.
“At the end of the day, the European Parliament is not a body of state representatives, but representatives of ideologies and political movements,” said Kizilyurek who feels that his candidacy is accepted in both sides of the island.
He called upon all Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to go to the ballot box and cast a vote for a ticket representing the ideas they believe in.
AKEL’s Euro election 2019 ticket is not the only time Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots joined the EP election race under a joint banner.
A bicommunal initiative under the name DRASy-Eylem (it’s given English name being Action) participated in the Euro elections of 2014. The then newly formed platform had got 1% of the vote in the first attempt of bicommunal cooperation in the framework of an electoral campaign.
Talking to the Financial Mirror, one of the Greek Cypriots who ran for election with DRASy-Eylem, Dinos Agiomamitis, said that supporters of a peace process in Cyprus are warming up to more initiatives like their own in 2014, and AKEL including a Turkish Cypriot on its ticket.
“People are losing faith in their leadership,” he said.
“These initiatives show in practice that the two communities can work together and make decisions that shape their future together,” said Agiomamitis who noted that DRASy-Eylem’s ticket was made up of 2 Turkish Cypriots and 4 Greek Cypriots (3 women and 3 men).
Meanwhile, renowned for his clash with Ankara, Turkish Cypriot newspaper publisher Sener Levent is leading the “Jasmine” ticket made up of six Turkish Cypriot peace activists.
Levent said his “election to the European Parliament will be a victory of the Cypriot people over the occupying forces and the dictatorship of Erdogan. A victory against fascism in Cyprus”.