OPINION: Judgement Day for Turkish Cyprus’ Run-Off Ballot

The key to winning the Turkish Cypriot presidential election run-off will be to sway the 44% of eligible voters who did not vote in the first round. Korsan Cevdet writes.

Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister Ersin Tatar is challenging President Mustafa Akinci for the presidency of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

By 19:00 (GMT) on Sunday, 11 October 2020, the first round of Turkish Cyprus’ presidential elections concluded with the expected results. Right-winger Ersin Tatar, of the National Union Party (UBP), was in the pole position with 32.34% of the vote, followed by incumbent leftist Mustafa Akinci (29.80%), and the centre-left Republican Turkish Party’s (CTP) Tufan Erhurman (21.71%). Centre-right People’s Party leader Kudret Ozersay came in fourth with 5.74% of the vote, a significant decline from the 21.25% he garnered in 2015. Erhan Arikli of the far-right Rebirth Party (YDP) received 5.41% of the vote, whereas Serdar Denktas recorded a mere 4.17% — a far cry from his iconic father Rauf’s legacy.

Tatar finished ahead of Akinci and Erhurman, but the combined votes of the pro-federalist candidates appear to outweigh Tatar’s support. Will this result in Akinci’s re-election this Sunday? Not necessarily, because voter participation in the first round was very low. Engagement and mobilisation of voters can propel Tatar to the presidency. From 198,867 eligible voters, only 110,915 votes were cast; a mere 55.77% of voters actually participated. Clearly, there are a number of disenfranchised people across Turkish Cyprus, but with an effective strategy and proper engagement, these voters can be drawn back into the process and make a difference on the 18th of October 2020. The key to winning this Sunday will be to convince disgruntled voters and those who simply did not turn out to re-engage for a more prosperous and realistic future.

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The first round’s results have to be taken seriously, because the person who most successfully taps into the support of the uncast ballots will win. Tatar has an advantage because his campaign is underpinned by Turkey’s guarantees — a red line which most Turkish Cypriots are not willing to compromise, let alone relinquish. Tatar therefore needs to clearly articulate his case for the future that is aligned to and guaranteed by Turkey. Tatar must also demonstrate that the pro-federalist camp cannot deliver on its campaign pledge of a federal settlement with Greek Cyprus. A federal solution has not been achieved following 52 years of failed negotiations and empty promises. Why? Because Turkish Cyprus and Greek Cyprus have irreconcilable differences and significantly different expectations of what a permanent peace entails.

Over the past 37 years, we witnessed Rauf Raif Denktas’s legacy be replaced with Mehmet Ali Talat, a yes-man willing to surrender everything to achieve a deal (almost any deal for that matter) that would have resulted in Cyprus’ Turks being relegated to a marginalised minority without sovereign authority or existential dignity. Talat’s failures resulted in a single term in office as he lost to Dervis Eroglu in the first round of the 2010 campaign. Similarly, UBP infighting cost Eroglu the presidency as Akinci won in the second round with CTP’s backing as the nationalist vote was divided and did not unite to support Eroğlu’s re-election.

Notwithstanding Akinci’s victory in 2015, the 2018 parliamentary elections produced significantly contrasting results. The nationalist vote accounted for 67.5% of the ballots, whereas the pro-federalists only obtained 29.56% of the vote. Clearly, there is a sizeable swing vote that can displace and replace politicians that overstay their welcome. For the record, this is a very healthy democratic trait that will produce benefits in the long run as no politician can get too comfortable. Consequently, Tatar needs to underscore his campaign efforts this week to build a vision of a more prosperous future that is aligned to and guaranteed by Turkey. Tatar must also demonstrate the obvious: Akinci’s pro-federalist disposition is neither plausible nor possible, because Cyprus’ Turks and Greeks have irreconcilable political differences. The only amicable option is to agree to disagree and move forward with divorce proceedings — that is, Tatar’s position and campaign pledge.

In the next few days, Tatar has to be crystal clear to win; Akinci cannot deliver on what he promises or envisions, because Greek Cyprus will not accept a solution that includes Turkey as a guarantor nor will Greek Cyprus agree to a bi-zonal, bi-communal federal structure with effective checks and balances, leave be a rotating presidency. The most prudent means to solve Turkish Cyprus’ challenges and foster an environment that produces sustainable opportunities and greater prosperity is alignment with Turkey.

Last Sunday’s ballot was close, but this Sunday’s victor will be the candidate who works tirelessly to deliver a realistic and tangible vision, and engages with the whole electorate. If Tatar is diligent this week, the presidency is his to win.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Radio EastMed or other any other clients and affiliates of Radio EastMed.

Korsan Cevdet was born in Limassol, Cyprus. He is a dual Turkish and Canadian national. With two Masters in Political Science and Business Administration, he regularly writes op-eds on international relations, focusing on security politics, international political economy, and financial crises. Tweets @KorsanCevdet.

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