A very tiresome period ended in Turkish Cyprus. Mustafa Akıncı, the “empathy with the Greek Cypriots” expert, lost the Oct. 18 elections. It was Akıncı who eroded almost all Turkish Cypriot red lines in the Cyprus talks. It was he, in more than 60 years of history of the Cyprus talks, who gave a map to the Greek side on territorial concessions for the first time without feeling the need to consult with the Turkish Cypriot government and parliament or with the Ankara government. It was he who said that Turkey’s guarantor status was not “sine qua non” and could be substituted with an international force.
He narrowly lost, but he did. National Unity Party (UBP) candidate Ersin Tatar won with 51.69 percent of the votes, totaling 67,322 votes, according to the Supreme Electoral Council. Akıncı, an independent candidate backed by all left-wing parties and groups, including the Republican Turks Party (CTP) and his Communal Democracy Party (TKP), finished with 62,910 votes at 48.31 percent.
We will discuss a lot in the coming period about what affected the election result, how the vote shifts happened and so on. However, the most important factor determining the result was election participation of around 55.5 percent in the Oct. 11 first-round vote, which became 67.3 percent in the Oct. 18 vote. In short, 12 percent of the electorate did not participate in the first round but went to the polls in the second round and shaped the outcome of the election.
Who were these 12 percent of voters? After allegations of manipulation in favor of Tatar from Ankara, the Jasmine Movement and the Baraka group, including left-wing intellectuals and writers who were the frontrunners of electoral boycott calls, had changed their position and declared intention to go to the booths on Oct. 11. However, the situation on the right was very different. Many of the leading members of Turkish Cypriot right-wing politics, those following the Rauf Denktas line, including, let me tell you, the successors of the former Turkish Cypriot Resistance Movement (TMT), as well as the liberal right were disgruntled and singing a boycott song in the runup for the Oct. 11 vote.
In one of my post-first round article, when I talked about what Akıncı and Tatar should do in order to win the election, I did not hear much from the left, but some of my closest friends on the right spectrum of Turkish Cypriot politics did not hesitate to use some insulting language against me as if I were Tatar’s opponent. I didn’t respond to those comments then, nor will I do now. They were products of serious political shallowness. However, in that article, I had written, “The support of the Democrat Party (DP) and the New Birth Party (YDP) will not be enough to carry Tatar to presidency. Tatar should be able to convince the Turkish Cypriot nationalists, especially some of the very resentful nationalist organizations, to go to the polls and vote for him.”
Was this 12 percent increase in election turnout the nationalist groups that I was talking about? Of course, in the nationalist sector, they were aware not to allow a repeat of what had happened in the 2015 presidential vote. In 2015, Akıncı was elected with the vote of a coalition of leftist parties and some right-wing voters angry with the other candidate, Derviş Eroğlu. This time they were successfully convinced not to allow a repeat of the electoral defeat due to internal resentments. Moreover, during the last few days of the election campaigning on social media, many messages were posted to remind the electorate of the not so bright performance of Akıncı during his extended five-and-half-year presidency, especially during the Crans Montana process, Akıncı’s “empathy” with the Greek Cypriots rather than defending the interests of Turkish Cypriots and Turkey.
Now let’s be honest. Most of us were skeptical of Tatar’s presidential electoral success, and some were even publicly asking whether he could be elected indeed. Many people who appreciated Tatar because of his outstanding performance as a finance minister and as prime minister were afraid that his presidential candidacy might be part of a “push him up and get rid of him” tactic. After all, UBP in recent times has become a “party leader mincing machine.”
However, the key to the electoral success of Tatar was in a social media post of a friend: “After so many years in the Turkish Cyprus, with the election of Ersin Tatar as president, indeed the ‘Rauf Denktaş spirit’ returned to the presidency. Those who did not let Denktaş speak to crowds at city squares, who were aligned with those ‘Yes my Mom’ groups, now had to say ‘No my Mom’ to Akıncı. May your soul rest in peace Denktaş, they all have conceded now. How right your policies were.”
In a sense, this election was also a referendum between a federal settlement and a two-state resolution to the Cyprus problem.
The Greek Cypriots never wanted a federation, and by the federation, they advocated giving some advanced minority rights to the Turkish Cypriots within the unitary state. The Turkish Cypriots, on the other hand, have defended a federation as a state structure consisting of two entities, which is a confederation. That is voluntary togetherness on the basis of equality, the two states on the island. Not only Akinci but the entire Turkish Cypriot left-wing, while accepting the pledge of allegiance to the federation, for some reason have always ignored the reality that Greek Cypriots never accepted the principle of sharing sovereignty, governance and resources by the two constituent peoples on the basis of political equality. While accepting the Greeks’ words “One state, one country, one people, one citizenship,” neither Mehmet Ali Talat nor Akıncı could see how treacherous their approach was.
Since 1977, the federation option has been closed, opened and closed in negotiations. No success could have been achieved. Now it is high time to change both the goal and the modality of the Cyprus talks. Tatar’s electoral platform was built on a pledge that he would be ready and willing to negotiate with Greek Cypriots a “two-state solution.” Moments after his victory was announced, he declared his readiness to return to the Cyprus settlement talks to discuss a resolution based on two states.
Greek Cypriots and local collaborators in Turkish Cyprus began to defend the view that “Akinci was not elected and there can be no solution in Cyprus anymore.” On the contrary, the Turkish Cypriot side will now be ready for a sincere and painful resolution process. Definitely, there can be no surrender, but in Turkish Cyprus now there is a political will for a painful compromise solution if Greek Cypriots can walk such a road. The best way forward is to have two states in the EU, with Turkey given EU-member like rights (Four freedoms: Settlement, movements of goods and money, travel and setting up businesses) limited to Cyprus – which would have both an internal border and an external border. Obviously, such a deal ought to enter force if approved by the two peoples on the island in a simultaneous twin referendum.