As Turkish Cypriots prepare to vote in the second round of the runoff presidential election, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Amid a lower turnout than previous years, last Sunday’s first round of presidential elections in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) saw the incumbent President Mustafa Akinci beaten to second place by rival and current Prime Minister Ersin Tatar.
Tatar, representing the conservative National Unity Party, won 32.35 percent with the sitting left-leaning president Tatar narrowly behind with 29.84 percent of the vote.
With no candidate passing the 50 percent threshold, Turkish Cypriots will go to the polls again on Sunday, October 18.
“This year's elections in the TRNC are more important,” than previous years, says Ismail Bozkurt, who served as advisor to former Cypriot Turkish president Rauf Denktas, speaking to TRT World.
It’s easy to see why, after all, Tatar and Akinci present voters with two differing visions of the future of the TRNC.
Akinci has promised that he will continue to seek a negotiated solution with his Greek Cypriot counterparts that would see the TRNC becoming part of a federal bi-national state.
Tatar, on the other hand, has argued that a federal state with the Greek Cypriot administration is no longer possible after years of negotiations having produced little to no results on a final settlement.
A victory for Tatar, says Bozkurt, would also mean better relations and a synchronisation of policies with Ankara, whereas if Akinci was to win, the situation could result in a continuing stasis of relations.
“The hope of a federal solution was lost by the Turkish Cypriots, and the preference for two separate sovereign states appears obvious. We can see that in a lot of different polls,” added Bozkurt.
Akinci himself, despite his public statements and best intentions, may also privately believe that the window for a federal state has passed according to a source in close contact with the current TRNC presidential administration.
“No one believes in negotiations anymore, even Akinci is fed up with the negotiating process,” the source who wished to remain anonymous said speaking to TRT World.
“For the Greek Cypriots it is impossible, I think, for them to ever share the state again with Turkish Cypriots,” added the source.
Looking beyond negotiations
Increasingly, the challenge of the TRNC is how to ensure they get a fair and equitable right to the economic resources of the island.
“The Greek Cypriots are looking for a partition driven policy, which would mean they do not want to share the resources with Turkish Cypriots,” added the source.
TRNC politicians are increasingly trying to break out of the country's isolation – with only Turkey recognising it so far. Increasingly economic issues are seen as more important to the electorate.
In the run-up to the polls, Tatar opened the famous Maras beach. It had been abandoned for 46 years after the island was left divided when a Greek Cypriot coup was followed by violence against the island's Turks. This led to Ankara’s intervention as a guarantor power.
Aside from the political symbolism that the move attracted, it is also an indication that politicians are now working under the assumption that the island's natural resources should be fully exploited and further political breakthroughs with the Greek Cypriot administration are unlikely.
But whoever wins this weekend’s runoff poll, will have to bring out more voters to the poll, some of whom may be wary of the current coronavirus pandemic, while others may just have grown apathetic.
The electoral arithmetic would, on the surface, seem to benefit Akinci. The candidate who finished in third place was former prime minister, Tufan Erhurman, who garnered 21.68 percent of the vote. Erhurman threw his support behind Akinci this week, giving the incumbent an edge in the polls.
Like Akinci, Erhurman is publicly in favour of reunification and his voters may well fall in line and give a candidate another chance to finalise a breakthrough, slim as that might be.
In 2017, the guarantor countries which protect Cyprus’ security – Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom – met at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana alongside their Greek and Turkish Cypriot counterparts.
At the time, there were high hopes that a solution could be found with the TRNC working towards a federation model. The Greek Cypriot administration, however, was more focused on discussing security and the final status of Turkish forces in the TRNC.
Since then, the politics in the eastern Mediterranean has become even more complicated and the chances of negotiated outcomes even less favourable.