Was constitutional referendum a rehearsal of possible settlement referendum?
On 29 June, the Republican Turkish Party (CTP) did not only suffer a huge wound by losing the three biggest cities – Nicosia, Famagusta and Kyrenia - in the local elections, but was also shaken by the rejection of a set of constitutional amendments that it advocated strongly. The amendments were submitted to a referendum on the same day as the local elections.
The constitution of the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” adopted in 1985, is a shameful copy of the 1982 constitution of Turkey – the product of the 12 September 1982 military coup. For the first time in almost 30 years, some changes – albeit small – were made through the efforts of mainly the CTP deputies and adopted unanimously by all the parties in parliament – the bigger party of the ruling coalition CTP, the smaller party of the ruling coalition right-wing Democratic Party (DP), main opposition right wing National Unity Party (UBP), and the left-wing Social Democracy Party (TDP).
The proposed amendments had initially called for the lifting of temporary article 10 - which is the legal basis for the Turkish Cypriot police to be under the control of the Turkish military, and the introduction of conscientious objection. However, CTP could not get the required support in parliament to go ahead with these changes and therefore, limited the amendments to some 20 articles.
Although the amendments, which among others, introduced children’s rights, limited the immunity of politicians, improved fundamental rights, and lifted the political ban on civil servants, were adopted unanimously by all the parties in parliament, they were rejected by 65% in the referendum.
Two major factors seem to have played an important role in the rejection of the constitutional amendments. First is the radical approach of the left-wing parties and non-governmental organisations, which criticised the amendments for being “cosmetic” and not touching on the substantial provisions – such as the temporary article 10.
The second, and the scarier, is the undercover, ear-to-ear no-campaign led by hardliner Turkish Cypriot leader Derviş Eroğlu, who has a significant influence on both UBP and DP, and the supporters of his ideology.
Although the more optimistic in the northern part of Cyprus would argue that the ‘no’ vote is the victory of the radical left, a strong message of rejection of the status quo and the 1985 constitution, I fear that this referendum was a rehearsal of the nationalist guardians of the status quo, to test the grounds. And I fear very much that this method of undercover campaigning against a unanimously adopted text, tested and proven to be successful, can be put to work during a possible referendum for a federal settlement in Cyprus.
Those, against the reunification of Cyprus through a federal solution know now that giving approval to a settlement text does not necessarily lead to a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum.