Turkish Cypriots vote amid turmoil

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Turkish Cypriots head for a general election on Sunday, with the Cyprus problem low on the political agenda due to the worsening economic situation and coronavirus.

The community is conducting an early election, following the resignation of a shaky nationalist right-wing coalition between the National Unity Party (UBP) and the far-right Rebirth Party (YDP).

Talking to the Financial Mirror, Professor of Political Science Ahmet Sozen said elections in the north were always about everyday problems and less about the Cyprus problem.

The Turkish Cypriot assembly is the legislative branch responsible for holding the executive to account.

The Turkish Cypriot leader handles external issues like relations with the European Union, the United Nations, and Greek Cypriots.

“However, this time around, the turn inwards has been heightened by worsening economic conditions, the pandemic spreading like wildfire through the community,” said Sozen.

He said the Turkish Cypriot economy suffered from food-price inflation, reaching 37.4% in September due to a sinking Turkish lira, while imports and transactions such as rent payments and loans denominated in a foreign currency increased.

“Adding to these are what the community perceives as failed promises from the EU, the stagnation of the Cyprus problem, largely attributed to the uncompromising stance of the Greek Cypriot side.

“This time, the general elections is more about everyday problems than ever before.

“Especially since we do not have a standoff between any candidate or party with Turkey.”

In the presidential elections held in October 2020, Turkey’s government explicitly intervened against Mustafa Akinci, the former Turkish Cypriot leader, also known as a fierce supporter of a federal solution.

“This is why there is no need for Turkey’s government to actively intervene to change the course of the election.

“Of course, Turkey is also too busy with its gigantic problems – economic crises, depreciated Turkish lira, rising inflation and unemployment sitting on the top of the list.”

Most polls show the UBP, which follows Turkey’s path unconditionally, as taking the largest number of the seats in the assembly despite not attaining an absolute majority.

Two states

Sozen said the current head of the coalition and leader of the UBP, Faiz Sucuoğlu, insists on a two-state solution based on equal sovereignty and international recognition.

UBP and its former boss, now Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, played a key role in the reopening fenced-off Varosha.

“Being not only a symbol of Cyprus’ partition but a bargaining chip in the decades-old conflict, the partial reopening of the town would throw prospects for reunification into doubt.

“Thus, fitting hand in glove with Turkey’s policy.

The professor argues Turkey has shifted from its traditional position in support of a bi-communal and bi-zonal federal settlement since UN-brokered Cyprus peace talks crashed in Crans Montana in 2017.

“We should mention that the Democratic Party (DP), but also the far-right YDP, which polls suggest could pass the threshold, follow these policies with no reservations.”

The Republican Turkish Party (CTP), a proponent of a bi-communal and bizonal federal solution, is expected to maintain second place.

As with the smaller left-wing Communal Democracy Party (TDP), once led by Akinci, the two parties have some reservations about Turkey’s policy initiatives but are inclined to seek dialogue with Ankara.

“The leader of the main opposition CTP, Tufan Erhurman, promises a viable country by implementing a long-term socio-economic and cultural development plan and establishing healthier relations by enhancing dialogue with Turkey,” said Sozen.

Both parties emphasise the importance of a self-sustained social state as financial aid provided by Turkey has gradually declined in recent years.

Greek Cypriots

When it comes to relations with the Greek Cypriot community and the EU, the left-wing parties seem more interested to pursue it.

CTP’s manifesto highlights the importance of improving the Green Line Regulation on the movement of goods, services, and people between the two sides.

“Nevertheless, it can be safely argued that following such a pro-EU and pro-federation path is not very promising for the political parties in terms of gaining votes.

“This is because the EU, by and large, failed to fulfil most of its promises toward the Turkish Cypriot community after the 2004 failed referendums on the UN-sponsored peace plan, such as the Direct Trade Regulation to bring Turkish Cypriots closer to the Union,” said Sozen.

He argued the Greek Cypriot stance on major negotiation issues had not helped parties in opposition to Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leadership’s swing towards a two-state solution.

“The intransigent position of the Greek Cypriot leadership on major negotiation issues like power-sharing, the security architecture of the future united island, and refusal to any kind of cooperation on natural resources plays into the hands of the right-wing nationalist Turkish Cypriot parties.”

Sozen said a mixture of COVID rampaging through the community and disillusionment guarantees low voter turnout.

An election boycott is supported by the United Cyprus Party (BKP) and the New Cyprus Party (YKP).

The turnout at the previous general election in 2018 was 66%, dropping to 58% in the 2021 clash between Akinci and Tatar for the Turkish Cypriot leadership.