By Esra Aygin
On Sunday April 19, some 177,000 Turkish Cypriots will go to polls to elect a leader, who will represent them in the international arena, and most importantly in the negotiations to solve the Cyprus problem, for the next five years.
Elections come at a time when Turkish Cypriots feel increasingly restless under strict austerity measures and religious and cultural intervention by Turkey; a new phase of negotiations is set to begin in what is widely believed to be the last chance to reunify the island under a federation; and tension surrounds the hydrocarbon exploration activities in the waters of Cyprus. Therefore the election results are highly unpredictable.
The elections are most certainly set to see a tight race between three candidates, current Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu, current ‘parliament speaker’ Sibel Siber and veteran politician Mustafa Akinci.
They have effectively divided the Turkish Cypriot community in two camps: Those who support the continuation of the status quo and the system in the north; and those who want to see a change in the spineless relations with Turkey, handling of internal issues and a chance for a solution in Cyprus.
Although controversial and conflicting, the polls that have been published so far show current hard-liner Turkish Cypriot leader Eroglu, 77, to be in the lead.
He is running independently in a bid to garner the support of right-wingers as a whole, which roughly make up 50% of the electorate.
However, although both of the major right-wing parties, National Unity Party UBP and Serdar Denktash’s Democratic Party DP lent support to Eroglu, there are a significant number of people on the right, who are openly against Eroglu mostly due to personal inter-party disputes. Polls show Eroglu to be roughly around the 30-35 % band.
Eroglu, who has been in politics since the 1970s and served as ‘prime minister’ for more than 15 years, uses nationalism as a main tool for his campaign.
He pledges a solution that would “defend the rights of Turkish Cypriots” and warns against a “solution at any cost”.
He especially finds support in rural areas, where the majority of the Turkish settlers live. His support base however, is hardly exclusively the settlers. He represents the continuation of the status quo and the system in the north, and is supported by many, who benefit from the system of the illicit distribution of wealth and public resources.
The polls contrast on who is currently second in the race, with some suggesting that current ‘parliament speaker’ Siber, who is the candidate of the Republican Turkish Party – United Forces CTP-BG – is behind Eroglu, while others show veteran politician Mustafa Akinci, who is running as an independent, in second place.
Siber, a well-known medical doctor and a newcomer in politics, has been a ‘member of parliament’ since 2009 and served as ‘prime minister’ for 2.5 months in an interim ‘government’ in 2013. During this brief period, she impressed many with her management skills.
While maintaining positive relations with Turkey, she took a number of brave decisions including the cancellation of a controversial tender to procure an anti-riot vehicle, revocation of an honorary “attaché of culture and tourism for TRNC” title given by the preceding administration to a Turkish actor famous for violent mafia roles, and abolished agreements to rent state-owned land in the Karpas region to a Turkish-Austrian consortium.
Not being from the grassroots of CTP has served both to her advantage and disadvantage. She has been able to rise above a worn-out CTP, which has not been able to meet expectations and garner the support of non-CTP voters and even right-wing voters, while at the same time, the CTP base found it difficult to accept her.
She campaigns for a federal solution in Cyprus and a fairer, better order for Turkish Cypriots. Polls show her and Akinci roughly at the 25-30 % band.
Akinci, who entered politics in 1976 when he was elected mayor of Nicosia Turkish Municipality and served in this post until 1990, is running as an independent candidate, but is backed by the Socialist Democracy Party and United Cyprus Party BKP. He is seen as the candidate who represents the survival of Turkish Cypriots in the face of Turkish assimilation.
When he was ‘deputy prime minister’ in 2000, he got into a big row with the Turkish general in Cyprus over transferring the control of Turkish Cypriot police from the Turkish military to civilian authority.
His coalition ‘government’ collapsed as a result. Akinci promises to work for a federal solution in Cyprus and a more balanced relationship with Turkey based on mutual respect. Nevertheless, during his campaign, he has been very careful not to antagonise Turkey.
One of the rare certainties of the upcoming elections in the north is that none of the candidates will get more than 50% of the vote required to win the elections in the first round.
The second round of the elections will be held on the following Sunday, April 26, where the two candidates with the most votes – probably Eroglu and Akinci or Eroglu and Siber will run against each other.
The results of the second round are also highly uncertain, with a lot depending on whether Eroglu will be able to secure the support of the right-wing and whether the left or pro-solution voters will unite behind either Siber or Akinci against Eroglu.