Northern Cyprus: Ankara protégés surprise victory over outgoing “president”

Owing to the predictions, Turkish-backed nationalist candidate Ersin Tatar was elected on Sunday as president of the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (RTNC), a success for Ankara in a context of intense tensions over its projects in the Eastern Mediterranean.

With 51.69% of the vote, according to the Electoral Council, Mr Tatar overridden Mustafa Akinci, a cold outgoing leader with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a supporter of the reunification of the Mediterranean island in the form of a federal state, boding a radical change in relations with the southern part of the island.

Hundreds of Tatar supporters flocked, many of them without masks, to the square where the results were broadcast in North Nicosia, with a lot of music praising the merits of their champion and waving Turkish flags.

I thank the Turkish Cypriot people who elected me tonight with their own democracy, said, triumphant, Mr Tatar on a stage, thanking Mr Erdogan while condemning those who used Turkey as an electoral argument. He called for a gathering of the Turkish Cypriot community that deserves its sovereignty before its supporters disperse to the sound of horns.

Mr. Akinci congratulated his opponent and those who contributed to this result. You know what happened during this election, he said, referring to the Turkish speeches, adding that he did not want to do politics on this.

Ankara very quickly greeted warmly the victory of its protégé: We will work together to ensure the prosperity, development and security of the Turkish Cypriots. Together we will defend Northern Cypruss legitimate rights and interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, tweeted Turkish diplomacy leader Mevlüt Cavusoglu.

Mr Erdogan congratulated Mr Tatar, assuring him of Turkeys support.

Participation was 67.29%, three points higher than in 2015, despite the new coronavirus pandemic. Some 199,000 people were called to vote out of more than 300,000 inhabitants.

Turkish interventions

The election took place against a background of intense tensions over the exploitation of hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean between Ankara and Athens, the main ally of the Republic of Cyprus — a member of the European Union (EU) since 2004 — which exercises its authority over the southern two thirds of the island.

After drilling off Northern Cyprus, this weeks return of a Turkish exploration ship to waters claimed by Greece has sparked discord and led to EU leaders condemning Turkeys provocations.

A 72-year-old Social Democrat, Mr Akinci defends the reunification of Cyprus in the form of a federal state and never concealed his intention to loosen ties with Ankara.

Mr Tatar, 60, defends a two-state solution.

Considering the RTCN as a major part of its strategy to defend its interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, Ankara closely followed the election and had multiplied his support to Mr. Tatar.

The grand opening of an underwater aqueduct between Northern Cyprus and Turkey and the partial reopening of a famous former seaside resort, abandoned and closed by the Turkish army after the partition of the island, provoked accusations of Turkish interference and irritated many Turkish Cypriots, led by Mr. Akinci.

Never equal

But to be independent of Ankara is difficult as the RTCN has been under Turkish economic control since its creation in 1983. And in times of economic crisis, amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr. Akincis strategy did not pay off.

Cyprus gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1960, but Turkish troops invaded the north of the island in 1974 in response to a coup détat aimed at attaching the island to Greece.

With his election in 2015, Mr. Akinci revived hope for a peace agreement, but the last official negotiations failed in 2017.

We cant do anything without Turkey, history has shown that Greek Cypriots will never accept that we are equal in the Republic, said Dilek Ertug, a 60-year-old real estate agent, before the results.

Condemning Turkeys interventions, Ertugs brother, Asaf Senol, a 64-year-old pensioner, said he was pro-federalism, illustrating the divisions within the Turkish Cypriot families themselves.

By CCeiT (AFP)