ANKARA - Turkish Cypriot voters sweep out the ruling party in elections even though there has been much progress in negotiations toward reunification of the divided island of Cyprus. The opposition UBP now holds the majority in parliament. Experts cite economic dissatisfaction as a main reason behind the results.
The Turkish Cypriot rightwing National Unity Party, or UBP, swept to victory in parliamentary elections Sunday on the northern part of the divided island, a result that clouds the destiny of peace negotiations with the Greek Cypriots.
The UBP garnered 44 percent of the vote, holding the majority in the 50-seat parliament with 26 deputies and opening the way for a one-party government. The result was a defeat for the pro-reunification ruling Republican Turks’ Party, or CTP, which came in second with 29.17 percent of the vote and won 15 seats in parliament. The Democratic Party was ranked third with 10.73 percent of the vote.
Center-left Communal Democracy Party sent two deputies to parliament with 6.8 percent of the vote, and the Freedom and Reform Party won two seats with 6.3 percent of the vote. Political parties on the northern part of the island must clear a 5 percent threshold to win seats in parliament. The turnout in elections stood at 81.42 percent, with 161,373 voters arriving at ballot boxes.
The faltering economy and continuing isolation of northern Cyprus is believed to be one of the reasons for the CTP’s defeat. In the 2005 elections, the party garnered 44.51 percent of the vote, winning 24 seats in Parliament.
The winner UBP advocates a two-state settlement for Cyprus, standing against the federal model now being discussed by Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat and Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias.
“We’ll embrace everyone,” UBP leader Derviş Eroğlu told an enthusiastic crowd in initial remarks on the election outcome, reported private channel NTV. Eroğlu served as prime minister of northern Cyprus from 1985 to 1994 and from 1996 to 2004.
He said continuing the negotiations were one of his party’s major policies. “We have supported Mr. President Mehmet Ali Talat to continue negotiations. We’ll act in unity for progress in negotiations by also thoroughly discussing Cypriot policies with motherland Turkey. Nobody has the right to brand the UBP as against an agreement,” he said.
CTP leader and Prime Minister Ferdi Sabit Soyer made clear that the election results would not cause his party to deviate from its path and said that as the opposition, the CTP would back every step to be taken on the path to finding a solution to the issue.
“We, as the opposition party, will not oppose any of the positive steps taken by the UBP-led government. We’ll be encouraging because what’s essential is the resolution of the Cyprus problem,” said Soyer.
The Cyprus dispute is one of the stumbling blocks before Turkey’s European Union membership ambitions.
An overwhelming majority of Greek Cypriots voted down a U.N.-backed peace plan in an April 2004 referendum on both sides of the island but unilaterally joined the EU a few days later, while the Turkish Cypriots, who supported the plan, were left in the cold. Turkey is under pressure from the EU to open its air- and seaports to Greek Cyprus to become a member of the bloc.
Galatasaray University Professor Ahmet İnsel, commenting on the election results for NTV, said voter reactions to the government’s economic policies and the ongoing isolation led to the CTP’s failure.
“The UBP took victory without doing anything. When the UBP comes to power, it could coolly approach negotiations with the Greek Cypriots,” he warned.
Researcher Muharrem Faiz, also appearing on NTV, said the Turkish Cypriot public considered the elections an opportunity to punish the ruling CTP.
Journalist Hasan Kahvecioğlu said the critical question was whether the UBP-led government would be able to work in harmony with President Talat, a key ally of the CTP.
“Talat says he will lead the negotiations but there might be a conflict [with the government]. … I don’t expect harmonious work in the upcoming period,” he Kahvecioğlu.
The two sides of the island of Cyprus
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, or its Turkish acronym KKTC, are the names used in Turkey and in the northern third of the island to describe the Turkish-controlled portion that declared its independence in 1983. Internationally, the Greek administration in the south is recognized and the island is referred to as the Republic of Cyprus.
Once part of the Ottoman Empire, the island formally became a British colony at the end of World War I with Turkey relinquishing its sovereignty in 1923. In 1960, the island became an independent republic. Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom were made guarantors of that independence under the accord that granted the island its status.
After repeated outbreaks of violence between the Greek and Turkish populations, the military government of Greece launched a coup in 1974 seeking to annex the island to Greece. After a failed bid to gain UK intervention to turn back the coup, Turkey intervened itself. That division of the island has remained to this day.
In a 2004 referendum, Turkish Cyprus accepted a European Union-backed plan to unify the island. The ethnic Greek community rejected it. The legally awkward result was entry of the Greek-led Republic of Cyprus into the EU as representative of the whole island while the KKTC was subjected to a continuing EU economic blockade.
For purposes of clarity, the Daily News generally uses the terms Turkish Cyprus and Greek Cyprus to refer to the two administrations.