As a result of the neck-and-neck election for the Turkish Cypriot leadership – which did not see any of the candidates get more than 50% of the votes required to win – incumbent leader Dervis Eroglu and veteran politician Mustafa Akinci will face off on Sunday.
Although Akinci has been successful in securing significant support from various segments of the society, the second round this Sunday is not going to be a breeze for him.
The race is rightfully seen as one between the status quo, non-solution and Turkification on the one side; and change, a federal solution and the survival of the Cypriot identity in the face of Turkish assimilation on the other.
It will largely be determined by those who voted for Kudret Özersay and the almost 40% who did not go to polls in the first round.
The ability of the left wing, pro-solution camp to stand in solidarity behind Akinci will also be an important factor.
Last Sunday, in the first round of elections, Eroglu garnered 28.15% of the votes edging out Akinci, who got 26.94%, by just over a percentage point. Current ‘parliament speaker’ and Republican Turkish Party – United Forces CTP-BG candidate Sibel Siber came third with 22.53% of the vote, marginally ahead of former chief negotiator Kudret Özersay.
The turnout for the election was the lowest in Turkish Cypriot political history, with only 62.34% of the eligible voters showing up to cast their ballot.
Although he came out as the winner, the first round was everything but a success for Eroglu.
He received about half of the total potential votes of the National Unity Party UBP and the Democratic Party DP – the two major rightwing parties backing him up.
The popularity of the incumbent leader, who at the onset of the election period was confident that he would win in the first round, gradually decreased as a significant portion of his traditional voter base turned to Özersay.
Akinci, on the other hand, was able to triple the total potential votes of the two parties that supported him in the first round – the Socialist Democracy Party and United Cyprus Party BKP.
Immediately after the results of the first round became clear, senior officials and opinion leaders from CTP-BG declared open and strong support for Akinci on social media.
In a very popular decision the following day, the party assembly of CTP-BG voted unanimously to give ‘active support’ to Akinci.
Siber and former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat have separately voiced support for Akinci and called on the voters to cast their ballots in his favour.
An obvious winner of the election, Özersay, a young professor of international relations and the founder of the civil society initiative “Toparlanıyoruz” (‘we are pulling ourselves together’) movement, who entered the race back in October 2014 with no significant power, party or organisation backing him up, has refrained from taking sides in the second round.
Having secured a very mixed supporter base from all across the political spectrum, Özersay insisted that he would not voice support for either of the candidates despite the fact that he called for clean politics throughout his election campaign and criticised the corrupt and ineffective system in the north – largely a legacy of Eroglu.
“I will go and cast my vote with free will and by listening to my conscience. I will not channel votes or get involved in any kind of bargaining,” Özersay said at a press conference.
However, in a move seen by some as a possible indication of his inclinations, Serkan Mesutoglu, the current president of the ‘Toparlaniyoruz’ movement, announced that he would vote for Akinci in the second round. ‘Toparlaniyoruz’ later made a press statement saying Mesutoglu’s choice does not bind the movement.
Murat Gezici, the director of the Gezici Research Company, which made the most accurate predictions in the run-up to the first round, stated in an interview earlier this week that he stands behind his company’s findings in relation to the second round, which foresee an Akinci victory by 60%.
“55% of people who voted for Özersay and 95% of the CTP-BG voters will vote for Akinci in the second round,” said Gezici.
To win, both Eroglu and Akinci will have to lure in the voters of Özersay as well as the absentees of the first round, who are believed mostly to be the disgruntled CTP-BG and UBP supporters.
Although Akinci seems to be more advantageous in the second round, having secured the support of CTP-BG and a large segment of the civil society (a large number of trade unions and non-governmental organisations including the Famagusta Initiative, Turkish Cypriot teachers union KTÖS, Cyprus Turkish civil servants KTAMS, Cyprus Turkish physicians union and the Cyprus EU Association have declared support for Akinci), Eroglu is working very hard to unite the right-wing and to win back the dissenters.
His campaigners, on the other hand, are trying to dissuade the Republican Turkish Party CTP voters from supporting Akinci by arguing that CTP has made a historic mistake by throwing its weight behind Akinci because his victory would spell disaster for the future of the party.
It remains to be seen this Sunday whether the left wing, pro-solution camp within the Turkish Cypriot community will be able to join powers behind Akinci to once again challenge the status quo as it did in the early 2000s, when it toppled the regime of the late Rauf Denktash.