Turkish Cypriots elected independent left-wing candidate Mr. Mustafa Akıncı (68) as their fourth President of the Republic in the second round of Presidential elections yesterday. Mr. Akıncı got 60 % of the votes against the incumbent President Dr. Derviş Eroğlu who got only 40 % of the votes. The voting turnout is announced as 64 %. Akıncı had 27 % of the votes in the first round and was behind Mr. Eroğlu who had 28 %. Thus, this might be considered as a surprise though some opinion polls previously forecasted his victory in the second round against Eroğlu.
Whether it is a surprise victory or not, this election will have certainly some implications over TRNC politics as well as Cyprus negotiations. Akıncı was an independent candidate supported by the pro-settlement Socialist Democracy Party (TDP), which has been -until now- the smaller party in Turkish Cypriot left-wing politics behind the social democratic Republican Turkish Party (CTP). After the shocking victory of TDP’s young politician Mr. Mehmet Harmancı in Lefkoşa (Nicosia) in last year’s local elections, this is a second blow to CTP since their Presidential candidate Mrs. Sibel Siber was eliminated in the first round with only 22 % of the votes. Prime Minister Özkan Yorgancıoğlu of the governing CTP-DP (center right party led by Serdar Denktaş) coalition, signaled an extraordinary Congress for his party after these results. He also mentioned that he will not be a candidate for party leadership in the Congress. Thus, highly respected former leader of the party and TRNC’s second President of the Republic (2005-2010), Mr. Mehmet Ali Talat, will probably become the new leader of CTP soon and will try to keep his party as the stronger left-wing party in the country.
Elections also proved the inability of the two main right-wing parties; pro-Turkey National Unity Party (UBP) and Turkish Cypriot nationalist Democratic Party (DP), since their strong candidate Mr. Eroğlu is not re-elected. A young liberal politician leading a civil society organization (Toparlaniyoruz) and advocating for clean politics and anti-corruption in the country, Mr. Kudret Özersay on the other hand, got 21 % of the votes in the first round of the elections, which is a clear sign of rightist voters’ desire for programmatic and leadership change. Mr. Özersay might establish a new centrist political party since there are no signs of change within UBP and DP.
The new President of the Republic, Mr. Mustafa Akıncı, is a well-known political figure in Cypriot politics. He was the mayor of Nicosia Turkish municipality for 14 years, between 1976 and 1990. He is an honest politician respected by Turkish Cypriots with his humble personality. Once a hardliner socialist, in recent years he has started to defend social democracy similar to other European social democratic leaders. He defends settlement in the island and rejects/criticizes Turkey’s involvement into Cypriot politics. However, Mr. Akıncı’s critical attitude towards Turkey might lead to economic problems in the country since nearly the half of TRNC’s budget is directly provided by Turkey and the country is faced with heavy embargoes. Akıncı will not be the PM, but the President and deal with Cyprus negotiations and foreign policy more than economics (TRNC has a semi-presidential system closer to parliamentarism than presidentialism) for sure, but still, his anti-Turkey rhetoric might create problems between these two countries. It is also interesting to note that, Turkey did not intervene into this election at all and never showed any unfavourable attitude towards Akıncı. But in case of a settlement plan against Turkish interests, Turkey might use its economic power over TRNC, in order to weaken the hand of Akıncı, who seems closer to Greek Cypriot administration rather than Turkey.
Mr. Akıncı, sincerely and without any question, defends settlement in the island on the basis of bicommunal and bizonal federalism, but there are still serious problems to overcome for the unification. First of all, although -unlike the old days- both parties in the island try to look like they are pro-settlement actors, this might be just a perception management strategy or image-building tactic covering the real ambitions in order to get more international support.
Secondly, there are still very serious problems at the negotiation table waiting for two leaders, Mr. Akıncı and Mr. Anastasiades, including the guarantees, the land issue, properties and the governance model. Financial losses related to land and property issues might be somehow handled with a fair agreement about the partition and safe transportation of recently discovered hydrocarbon resources in the East Mediterranean with a pipeline from Cyprus to Turkey, but guarantees will be the most difficult and critical issue. Since Turkish Cypriots remember very well the recent history, they will probably insist on the Turkish guarantee for the new state, similar to 1960 Cyprus Republic, to which Turkey, United Kingdom and Greece were guarantor states. Without a Turkish guarantee, Turkish Cypriots will become defenseless against a possible Greek Cypriot ultra-nationalist insurgency in the coming years. European Union, with its double-standard approach to Turkey and rising xenophobic and racist parties within the club, might not be a reliable guarantor for Turkish Cypriots.
Thirdly, growing pro-Russian tendencies of Greece and Greek Cypriot administration in recent months, might disturb two influential global actors, United Kingdom and United States as well, since Cyprus Republic is not a NATO member country, whereas the security on the north side of the island is provided by a staunch NATO ally, Turkish Armed Forces. At a time when NATO is strongly critical of Russian aggression due to Ukrainian crisis, turning the island into a neutral or pro-Russian state might not be that attractive for NATO allies.
Fourthly, although it is not stated openly, the current divided status of the island provides some economical and political advantages to both sides which may not be easy to give up. Since the attractiveness and advantages of EU membership decreased sharply in recent years, especially after the euro crisis and German domination within the Union, both sides might prefer to keep the status quo in the island for economic benefits. Turkey also, not openly but clearly supports the current status because it has serious economic gains from TRNC.
For all these reasons, 50 years old negotiations in Cyprus will likely to continue without a substantive solution, unless there is a strong influence from outside. The election of Mr. Akıncı and the perfect implementation of democratic procedures in TRNC on the other hand, shows that there is a consolidated democracy here and this country deserves more international credit and support.
Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ