Turkish Cypriots prepare for vital leadership vote

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Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci may not make the run-off in April elections for the leadership of his community while the outcome could spell danger for the Cyprus peace process.

Analysts argued the 26 April election is of vital importance for the future of the Turkish Cypriot community and stalled peace talks as the election of a hardliner would make life difficult.

Mustafa Akinci, who according to analysts has been clear in his stance against Turkey’s meddling in the affairs of the Turkish Cypriot community, is in a bit of a tight spot as he falls in the polls.

The Kibris Postasi poll has right-wing coalition leader Ersin Tatar first on 32%, followed by left-wing Tufan Erhurman with 23%, Akinci is a lowly third with 18% followed by the People’s Party (HP) and the ruling coalition’s second-in-command Kudret Ozersay with 10%.

Some 5,000 participated in the online survey which was carried out between 15-21 January in the above survey.

A previous opinion poll carried out earlier in January by Turkish company Gezici showed Akinci going through to the second round as he appealed to 28.8% of voters behind UBP’s Ersin Tatar who tops the poll with 34.2%.

According to Gezici, Akinci will lose in the second round to Tatar as just 30% of voters asked said that they would cast a vote for him. Tatar’s support in the second round will increase to 40%, said Gezici.

Ahmet Sozen Professor of Politics at the Eastern Mediterranean University in Famagusta said the elections are crucial despite the widespread belief among Greek Cypriots that it does not matter who is elected as Turkey is in the driver’s seat.

“The Turkish Cypriots are going to the polls to elect their chief negotiator for the Cyprus problem, essentially giving the go-ahead to the policy that candidate represents,” argued Sozen.

The EMU professor said despite Turkey being a factor in determining policies followed by Turkish Cypriots on the Cyprus problem and domestic governance, “none the less the person elected to lead the community does matter and will have an influence on which direction negotiations will go down”.

He said that in elections for the leadership, a candidate’s track record is of great importance, even more so than the party backing his candidacy.

“At the moment Mustafa Akinci clearly represents the strive for a bizonal and bicommunal federal solution to the Cyprus problem. His track record has been consistent with the parameters endorsed by the two sides in the 1970s.”

Akinci is seen as a politician who has developed left-wing policies not always in line with Turkey. He is known for his head-on confrontation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Sozen expects Akinci to get a quarter of the vote to make the run-off as a result of his stance on the Cyprus problem while also gaining points from his stance towards Turkey.

Akinci is threatened by the right-wing leader of the coalition Ersin Tatar and Tufan Erhurman of the left-wing CTP.

Erhurman and his CTP declared they are seeking a Cyprus solution based on a bicommunal federation, however, what differentiates him from Akinci is that he believes if the Greek Cypriots are not ready for such a solution, then the Turkish Cypriots should go it alone.

“CTP is also critical towards Akinci for not using his position as the leader of the Turkish Cypriots, which is the only one recognised internationally, actively visiting European capitals promoting the community’s case,” Sozen said.

Tatar is the leader of the UBP, traditionally reactionary when it comes to the Cyprus problem, with a big part of the party openly supporting a two-state solution.

Tatar is expected to come out on top in the first round of the elections.

Who will stand up to Turkey?

“The former negotiator Kudret Ozersay and his HP do not totally reject the idea of a federation but have said time after time that other options should be on the table”.

Ozersay is seen as Ankara’s chosen one by many Turkish Cypriots due to his close ties with the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and other Turkish state officials.

“These ties, coupled with his inconsistency in his declarations and policies, have cost him to lose a large number of supporters in the north,” argued Sozen.

He said that participation in the elections will be a factor in their outcome.

“The last election saw just 63% participating in the first round and 66% in the second. There is dissolution among Turkish Cypriots who have lost hope for a Cyprus solution.

If these people along with some boycotters turn towards pro-solution candidates, then Akinci and Erhurman have a greater chance of being elected.”

Turkish Cypriot journalist and political analyst Esra Aygin sees the upcoming elections as of vital importance for the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots.

“For the Greek Cypriots its quite clear, who do they want to see sitting at the other end of the table? A hardliner or a politician genuine in his intentions for a bizonal, bicommunal solution?”

Aygin said that apart from the issue of the Cyprus problem, these elections are of existential importance for the Turkish Cypriot community.

“At a time when Ankara’s meddling in the north is at its peak, the community needs someone to stand up for its rights.

Even in the case that no solution is found, the community needs someone to stand up and say that we are not willing to bow to Turkey.”

Aygin believes that Akinci has the best credentials to lead the Turkish Cypriots for another five years.

“Tufan Erhurman during his 15-month tenure as leader of the ruling coalition he did not refer to a solution with the fear of upsetting Turkey, he also took pride in never crossing to the south while he was head of the administration in the north”.

She said it’s very important for the future of peace talks and Greek Cypriots who are fighting for a solution to see the Turkish Cypriot community backing a candidate who is openly fighting in the interest of peace and against the “Turkification” of the north.