Turkish Cypriots in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) failed to elect a clear winner in presidential polls held Sunday, paving the way for a second round to be held next week to decide between the top two candidates.
Voting in the TRNC, which has remained economically isolated since declaring its independent statehood in November 1983 due to it only being recognised by Turkey, took place as Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots seek to revive peace talks after a six-month pause due to a dispute over offshore hydrocarbon reserves.
In October, Turkey sent a seismic vessel to search for hydrocarbon reserves off the island’s coast in agreement with the TRNC after the Greek Cypriot side failed to heed warnings to cease unilateral action over the potential natural gas fields.
Greek Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades subsequently left the negotiation table out of protest, just eight months after he and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Dervis Eroglu read out a joint declaration vowing to reunite the island based upon a UN-backed bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.
However, it was announced earlier in April by the UN envoy to the island, Espen Barth Eide, that peace talks will resume within a matter of weeks after Turkey withdrew its vessel following a pause to Greek Cypriot hydrocarbon research in the area.
Despite collecting the most votes with 28.18 percent, incumbent president and right-wing veteran Dervis Eroglu failed to duplicate his success from the last elections in 2010 when he won in the first round with over half the votes.
President Eroglu will now have to defend his position on April 26 against left-wing candidate Mustafa Akinci, who came second in the polls with 26.92 percent of the votes.
Akinci will enter next Sunday’s run-off as favourite, likely to attract voters opposed to 77-year-old Eroglu’s rule, who has lost much of the support he enjoyed in the previous elections during a term that has been riddled by economic problems and the failure to solve the “Cyprus Problem.”
After a turnout of 62 percent out of 176,916 registered voters, the elections proved to be a tight race between four main candidates with only 7 percent separating them.
Center-left Republican Turkish Party (CTP) candidate and Parliament Speaker Sibel Siber, who was tipped by some pre-election pollsters to reach the second round, bowed out with 22.54 percent of the votes, closely followed by fourth-placed independent candidate, former chief negotiator Kudret Ozersay, who gained a hard-earned 21.23 percent.
Speaking to The Associated Press, former capital Lefkosa (northern Nicosia) mayor Mustafa Akinci said the result from the election signifies a “turning point.”
"I'm convinced next week's results will be a win for all those who want peace in Cyprus and a better future not only for Turkish Cypriots, but for the whole island," Akinci said.
Akinci is keen candidate to solve the 40-year-old dispute that has divided the island’s Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots ever since Turkey militarily intervened in July 1974 following a Greek-inspired coup on the government in a bid to annex Cyprus to Greece.
Eroglu, on the other hand, has been accused of being in favour of the status quo, despite cooperating with the peace process so far. Calling out to his supporters, President Eroglu said those who want “their sovereignty and say Turkey is the motherland and the guarantor” to go vote.
"If we consider the fact that the negotiations will start soon, my wish is to see a president after this election who is able to voice the needs and represent the ideas and expectations of the Turkish Cypriot community," he said after casting his ballot.
Eroglu will enter the second round with the support of his former National Unity Party (UBP), as well as the backing of Serdar Denktas’ Democratic Party-National Powers (DP-UG).
Akinci will have the support of his Communal Democracy Party (TDP), which has replaced Siber’s CTP as the main left-wing party in the TRNC. Supporters of the CTP, which prior to the election was marred by in-fighting and uncertainty over who was going to represent the party in the elections, may also offer their backing to Akinci in the run-off.