Cyprus benefit from Turkey vote (The Cyprus Weekly, 13 June 2015)
By Esra Aygin
Turkey’s election result has ushered a period of political uncertainty, which may be an invaluable advantage for the Cypriot leaders to swiftly move forward with bolder confidence- building measures and Turkey’s Ruling Justice and Development Party AKP took a blow in last Sunday’s parliamentary elections losing the power to govern alone for the first time since it came to power in 2002.
Although it came out first in the elections, with 40.87 % of the votes, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP lost its single-party rule and could not secure the so-called super majority in parliament – two-thirds of the seats – that it aspired.
A super majority would have allowed AKP to change the constitution and create a more powerful US-style presidency, which would give President Erdoğan greater executive powers with fewer checks and balances.
AKP is now expected to embark on tough political bargaining and coalition negotiations with reluctant parties against a backdrop of increasingly polarised politics.
If all efforts fail, Turkey will likely be headed to a new election. Analysts expect weeks of wrangling to form a coalition government since initial reports in Ankara suggest AKP would prefer a coalition government to a new election.
“Nobody in Turkey has the luxury to be thinking about Cyprus right now. And a Turkey that is less interested in Cyprus is a more advantageous Turkey,” said Professor Ahmet Sözen of International Relations and Vice-Rector of the Eastern Mediterranean University.
“Some very good steps have been taken within the framework of confidence-building measures. The two leaders must turn these into big steps without waiting too long, and start substantial negotiations without delay.”
Sunday’s election was a historic turning point for the Kurds in Turkey as the Peoples Democracy Party HDP – with its roots in Kurdish nationalism, which aligned with Turkey’s liberals and seculars opposed to Erdoğan’s authoritarianism, passed the threshold for entering the parliament. The success of HDP – which won 13.12 % of the votes – means the Kurdish minority will for the first time be properly represented in the parliament with 80 seats. These 80 deputies are expected to be significant for Cyprus too. HDP has voiced strong support for the reunification of the island and the reconciliation of the two communities.
The possibilities for AKP, are a coalition government with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party MHP – which is seen as the most likely outcome – the Kemalist Republican People’s Party CHP or the Peoples Democracy Party HDP.
An agreement between all opposition parties CHP, MHP and HDP – although a possibility – is seen as highly unlikely due to the sharp contrasts between especially MHP and HDP.
Another option for AKP would be to form a minority government supported by one of the other parties, and then to seek agreement in parliament on an ad hoc basis. However, commentators agree that such a government would be short-lived.
Although Turkey’s quest for a government may prove to be favourable for the reconciliation process in the short term, commentators warn that prolonged uncertainty in Turkey would take its toll on Cyprus, which will need a stable, strong Turkish government to support solution in the long run.
“If the uncertainty continues for too long this would have a negative impact on the negotiations as, at some point, Turkey will have to take some steps within the framework of the process or be involved in important decisions such as the future of guarantees,” said Mete Hatay, senior research consultant at the PRIO Cyprus Centre.
“In the long term, the Cyprus peace process needs the support of stable Turkish government that is respected by the international community.”
Although a coalition between AKP and MHP is feared to potentially have negative implications on the peace process in Cyprus due to the extreme nationalist MHP’s hardline stance, some experts say it would be very difficult for Turkey, no matter what, to derail an international community-backed process led by the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders.
“I don’t believe that there would be a radical change in the policy Turkey recently pursued even if there is a coalition. No matter which scenario comes to life, I cannot think of a Turkish government not supporting an internationally -backed negotiation process in Cyprus. Maybe it will be more cautious, but it will support,” said Ahmet Sözen.
Besides the political implications, the Turkish elections have also had a financial impact on Turkish Cypriots. Although it is viewed as a positive that Erdogan’s aspiration of greater powers have been curtailed, the prospects of a coalition government revive fears of political instability and economic malaise. Following the elections, Turkey’s main stock index dropped 8%, while the Turkish lira plunged to a record low against the US dollar.
The collapse of the Turkish lira has a devastating impact on Turkish Cypriots since many goods and services including household appliances, house prices, rents, school fees and loans are indexed to foreign currencies.
All major newspapers in the north had the plummeting of the Turkish lira as their lead story for days that flowed Sunday’s elections and have been calling on the Turkish Cypriot authorities to take measures to limit the impact.