CYPRUS: Coalition in north collapses amidst rumours of Turkey intervention

9 mins read

Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci has given the right-wing National Unity Party (UBP) a mandate to form a coalition that commands a majority in the assembly in the occupied north of Cyprus following the collapse of the administration.

Head of the ruling coalition, Tufan Erhurman tendered his resignation to Akinci earlier in the week, essentially marking the collapse of a 15-month partnership between four parties of different political backgrounds. 

It is believed that UBP seeks an alliance with Kudret Ozersay’s HP as other parties talk of a conspiracy between UBP and HP to deliberately bring down the administration to assume power. 

Former partners of the coalition, excluding HP, have indicated that they will not join UBP.

They claim that HP made a deal with the National Unity Party to allow leader Ersin Tatar head the coalition, in return, Ozersay will get UBP backing in the elections for a new Turkish Cypriot leader in 2020.

Political analysts see some truth in the scenario which has Ozersay in bed with UBP, but they also point to political differences between the former partners and possible interference from Ankara which appeared to be unhappy with the previous coalition.

The former coalition, led by Erhurman, the leader of the left Republican Turkish Party, included Ozersay’s conservative People’s Party (HP), Serdar Denktash’ Democratic Party (DP) and the leftist Communal Democracy Party (TDP).

The Turkish Cypriot coalition fell apart after Ozersay, head of foreign affairs, resigned over what is being presented as a public property scandal involving the son of Serdar Denktash the head of finance in the north.

A probe was launched into public land being leased without proper procedures being followed to the Rauf Denktash University, of which Serdar Denktash’s son Rauf is the main shareholder.

Analysts argue the land scandal was just the tip of the iceberg, as the coalition was destined for collapse.

“This was a difficult partnership to begin with. We had four parties all from different ideological backgrounds and views on the Cyprus Problem,” said Ahmet Sozen, professor of Political Science and International Relations at the Eastern Mediterranean University (EMU) in north Famagusta.

He said the coalition had difficulties on forming policies especially on the Cyprus problem, on which they essentially had agreed not to have a central policy, but rather each party followed their own line when it came to that issue.

Despite differences between the partners, the coalition did have its successes.

“This administration did not receive any financial support from Turkey. It managed to pay off the salaries of public workers and keep the government running with receiving a single penny from Turkey,” Sozen said.

Ankara meddling

Turkey did not provide any financial backing to the north, as the financial protocol, the equivalent of the bailout deal signed between the Republic of Cyprus and international lenders, has yet to be signed.

The protocol with Turkey contains a number of structural reforms, such as privatisations, which the former partners, with the exception of HP, were not keen on implementing.

“The four-party coalition also had to deal with the negative fluctuations of the Turkish Lira which reached a record low in August last,” said Sozen.

However, because all their resources were going into keeping engines running, all infrastructure investments had essentially stopped.

Due to the coalition partners’ stance towards the structural reforms demanded by Turkey, Ankara was not happy with the coalition, this gave way to speculation of a backdoor intervention.

“If you add to the picture the tensions between Ankara and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, then one can easily conclude that Turkey would like to see a change.

Rumours say that Ankara favours a coalition including Ozersay’s HP and a change of Turkish Cypriot leader,” said the professor.

HP had on a number of occasions, expressed their discontent, perceiving that their partners were dragging their feet when it came to agreeing on the protocol, saying it “could not do business this way”.

“Turkey did have issues with the previous coalition and does favour Ozersay, but there is no proof of whether they have indeed intervened to bring about a change in the administration,” said Sozen.

Other analysts see Turkey playing a role in the developments, as they see Ozersay closer to Ankara’s positions than anyone else in the north.

Financial aid

“Turkey is behaving towards Turkish Cypriots like they are the IMF, demanding structural reforms such as wide-scale privatisation, which the majority of the parties are reluctant to implement,” said political analyst and PRIO researcher Mete Hatay.

He said HP’s electoral base is not made up of civil servants and “Ozersay is a big fan of the neoliberal agenda”, while the rest of the political spectrum in the north supports a mixed economy.

Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leadership are still debating the conditions of the protocol.

“Somewhere along the line, the Cyprus problem also comes into play, with Ankara clearly favouring Ozersay.

Let us not forget that he and his party were quick to jump on board Turkey’s Foreign Minister Cavusoglu’s train when talked about a solution to the Cyprus problem outside the (UN chief) Gutteres framework,” said Hatay.

He said HP was helped by Cypris President Anastasiades comments backing a loose federal solution which has pushed Akinci into a corner.

Nikos Moudouros, expert in Turkish and Middle Eastern Studies, told the Financial Mirror that although the collapse of the coalition may have had Ankara’s blessing, the differences between the partners both on the ideological sphere and on the Cyprus problem have played their role.

“Rumours say that CTP had been preparing an amendment to the financial protocol which would see Turkish Cypriots gain more control over decision making on financial issues while focusing on increasing the production capacity of the community.

If this proves to be true then it would become clear that Turkey does not want Turkish Cypriots to increase their production capacity,” said Moudouros.

He said that developments have opened up the discussion over the elections to elect a new Turkish Cypriot leader next year and what will happen with the financial protocol and Turkey’s financial aid to the north.

What latest developments have on the peace process and Turkish Cypriots relations with the Greek Cypriot side, depend on whether the dynamics of the parties will change ahead of those elections next year.

“It is not clear what will happen at the elections. Ozersay seems to be positioning himself to be elected as the next Turkish Cypriot leader, however, this will also depend on the choice of the left,” said Moudouros.

“We are asking ourselves how the developments will shape relations with Greek Cypriots, but we must also contemplate how deadlocked Cyprus talks has given way to a number of political changes in the north and the rise of intransigent powers in the Turkish Cypriot community,” he added.