Tuesday 28 April 2015

A War of Two Worlds (The Cyprus Weekly, 24 April 2015)

By Esra Aygin

As a result of the mind-blowing, neck and neck election for the Turkish Cypriot leader last Sunday - which did not see any of the candidates get more than 50 per cent of the votes required to win - incumbent leader Derviş Eroğlu and veteran politician Mustafa Akıncı are set to stand a runoff voting on 26 April. Although Akıncı 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 result of the race 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, will largely be determined by the those, who voted for Kudret Özersay and the almost 40 per cent who did not go to polls in the first round. The ability of the left wing, pro-solution camp to stand in solidarity behind Akıncı will also be an important factor.

Last Sunday, 19 April, in the first round of elections, Eroğlu garnered 28.15 per cent of the votes edging out Akıncı, who got 26.94 per cent, 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 per cent 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 per cent of the eligible voters showing up to cast their ballots.

Although he came out as the winner, the first round was nothing but a success for Eroğlu. He received about half of the total potential votes of the National Unity Party UBP and the Democratic Party DP – the two major right wing 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. Akıncı, 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 Sunday night, senior officials and opinion leaders from CTP-BG declared open and strong support for Akıncı on social media. In a very popular decision the following day, the party assembly of CTP-BG voted unanimously to give ‘active support’ to Akıncı. Siber and former Turkish Cypriot leader Talat have separately voiced support for Akıncı 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 organization 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 criticized the corrupt and ineffective system in the north – largely a legacy of Eroğlu.

“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 in a press conference on Tuesday. However, in a move seen by some as a possible indication of his inclinations, Serkan Mesutoğlu, the current president of the ‘Toparlanıyoruz’ movement, announced that he would vote for Akıncı in the second round. ‘Toparlanıyoruz’ later made a press statement saying Mesutoğlu’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 Akıncı victory by 60 per cent. “55 per cent of people who voted for Özersay and 95 per cent of the CTP-BG voters will vote for Akıncı in the second round,” said Gezici

To win, both Eroğlu and Akıncı 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, Akıncı 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 organizations including the Famagusta Initiative, Turkish Cypriot Teachers Union KTÖS, Cyprus Turkish Civil Servants Trade Union KTAMS, Cyprus Turkish Physicians Union and the Cyprus EU Association have declared support for Akıncı) Eroğlu 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 Akıncı by arguing that CTP has made a historic mistake by throwing its weight behind Akıncı 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 Akıncı to once again challenge the status-quo as it did in early 2000s, when it toppled the regime of late Denktaş. The sentiment is undeniably similar.

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