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Hope for solution faded in Cyprus?

There is panic on the Greek Cypriot side, as well as in the European and transatlantic quarters hoping to see a Cyprus settlement later this year or the latest by April, the end of the presidential term of President Mehmet Ali Talat, that the nationalist-patriot front getting some 63 percent of the vote in last Sunday’s election and the biggest party of conservative politics in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, the National Unity Party, or UBP, obtaining 26 seats in the 50-member Turkish Cypriot Republican Assembly were setbacks to settlement efforts.

Comments made in the Greek Cypriot side all stress that the election victory of the "anti-settlement" bloc loyal to the "any settlement must be based on the two-state reality of the island, political equality of these two founding states and must include continued Turkish guarantees" fundamental line of former Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktaş were indicative of the change of mood in the Turkish Cypriot side and will have a reflection on the talks even if Talat was not affected by the vote. UBP leader and incoming Prime Minister Derviş Eroğlu has been emphasizing his support for "whatever Talat has so far put on the negotiations table, the way he has been conducting talks and his declarations that Greek Cypriots cannot question the sovereign rights of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, or the TRNC, reality."

Similarly, American officials were commenting to this writer on election night after early results had placed the UBP some 15 points ahead of the outgoing two-way coalition’s senior partner socialist Republican Turks’ Party, or CTP: "We are now faced with an awful and very complicated situation." They were not hiding their displeasure with the UBP victory and indeed expressing strong worries that the talks process could land in a deadlock, a not-so-rare situation in the decades of Cyprus peacemaking.

Coalition a probability
Naturally, Greek Cypriots, Europeans and Washington have fixed their ears and eyes on the UBP to learn whether it will establish a single-party government, which it can, or include one of the two smaller parties that each have two seats in parliament or the Democrat Party, or DP, of Serdar Denktaş, which has five seats, and form a coalition government with a larger parliamentary base. It is too early to say which way Eroğlu will eventually go, but because of old enmities, the inclusion of the Freedom and Reform Party, or ÖRP, of outgoing Foreign Minister Turgay Avcı and the DP in a possible coalition appears to be far less likely than the social democrat Communal Democracy Party, or TDP, of Mehmet Çakıcı. Yet, as the parliament speaker has voting rights in the Turkish Cypriot legislature, the UBP’s 26-seat majority is sufficient for a single-party government. Such a government, however, will be at constant risk given the past history of parliamentarians transferring between parties. A coalition between the UBP and the TDP appears likely, though not certain.

Whether the UBP will have a one-party government or a two-way coalition may affect relations between the government and President Talat and consequently how the talks continued. Even though the UBP is supporting Talat’s negotiating position, the inclusion of a representative from the TDP, a party strongly committed to a federal settlement, in a government may help quiet the UBP’s "federation through the evolution of a confederation" position, which it anyhow appears to have shelved since the start of the election campaign, perhaps partly because it was trying not to harm its relations with the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government in Ankara.

One more point that those pessimistic commentators were missing in evaluating the UBP election victory is the fact that any eventual settlement accord will be subjected to simultaneous referenda of the two sides of the island. At the moment over 60 percent of people on both sides of Cyprus are voicing strong opposition to a deal that Talat and his Greek Cypriot counterpart, Demetris Christofias, are trying to achieve. With the UBP in power and sharing responsibility with Talat, a deal with Greek Cypriots may help get a second "yes" in the north to a peace plan, while prospects are not that bright in the Greek Cypriot sector.

Thus, the UBP victory is not a handicap to the peacemaking process, but a contribution.