Before runoff, Turkish Cypriot analysts offer views about vote’s potential effect on the long-running Cyprus issue.
Nicosia, Cyprus – Cypriots are voting on Sunday in the second round of a tight presidential election that might determine whether peace talks to end four decades of division on the ethnically split island will resume later this year.
Incumbent President Nicos Anastasiades, a conservative who came first on January 28 with 35.5 percent, will face Stavros Malas, an independent backed by the left-wing party AKEL who finished second with 30.2 percent.
The result of the first round was welcomed by Greek Cypriots keen to revive stalled reunification efforts and bridge the divide with the island’s Turkish Cypriot community.
In the lead-up to the elections, both Anastasiades and Malas openly backed a solution to the Cyprus problem based on the principles of a bizonal, bicommunal federation between the island’s two communities, in contrast to other candidates who took a harder line on negotiations.
Diplomatic efforts to unify the island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea have failed repeatedly since 1974, when Turkey invaded Cyprus’s north in response to an Athens-backed Greek Cypriot coup seeking union with Greece.
The latest round of peace talks was led by Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci, the Turkish Cypriot leader, but broke down in acrimony in July 2017 after two years of negotiations. Both Anastasiades and Malas have vowed to seek the resumption of negotiations, if elected.
The runoff in the internationally recognised south also comes nearly a month after Turkish Cypriots in the north voted in parliamentary elections. On Friday, a new four-party coalition government was formed in the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is not recognised by the international community. It has a functioning parliament and state institutions.
In advance of Sunday’s poll, Al Jazeera spoke to Turkish Cypriot analysts and activists to hear their views about the vote in the south and its potential effect on the long-running Cyprus problem. The interviews have been slightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Ahmet Sozen – professor of political science and international relations at Eastern Mediterranean University (EMU)
The result of the first round was not a big surprise given the opinion polls of the past few months. The only small surprise was the increased support for Malas.
In that regard, the second round will be between two candidates who at least publicly declared that they are ready to restart the peace talks, though Anastasiades attached a caveat to it during the election campaign: that the Treaty of Guarantee and the intervention right of the Guarantors would be abolished, and that the foreign troops in Cyprus would be completely withdrawn in day one of an agreement. [More than 30,000 Turkish troops are currently stationed in the Turkish Cypriot region]
This is, of course, a nonstarter for the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot side. Yet, whether this was a strategy to win more nationalist votes, or an unchanging position, needs to be tested after the second ballot.
Compared to Anastasiades, Malas is expected to be more flexible on the Cyprus issue and more eager to return to negotiations with the Turkish Cypriot side without delay, if elected.
On the other side of the island, in the north, a four-party coalition government mostly representing pro-solution voters has been formed.
The coalition announced that it would let the president, Akinci, to conduct the peace negotiations without the government taking a position.
This is indeed much better for Akinci than having a completely right-wing government led by the National Unity Party (UBP), which is not an eager supporter of a federal solution to the Cyprus conflict.
However, one word of caution is needed before being too hopeful for the resumption of peace talks in the near future.
For the negotiations to restart under the aegis of the UN, the two Cypriot leaders – Akinci and one of Anastasiades and Malas – need to come together and agree on a roadmap and jointly invite the UN chief to extend his mission of good offices in the peace negotiations.
This is not an easy task. However, since the start of the intercommunal negotiations in 1968, no Greek Cypriot or Turkish Cypriot leader could afford to not take part in negotiations.
Hence, I do believe that after a preparation period following the elections, the peace talks will restart.
The key here is whether the two leaders, as well as the three Guarantors – Greece, Turkey and the UK – would sincerely walk the last extra mile towards a lasting peace in Cyprus.
Fatma Azgin – columnist, TV presenter, activist
The Cyprus problem has been going on since my childhood – and it’s still continuing.
I grew up in old Nicosia with Greek Cypriots as neighbours. They left the Turkish quarter in 1957 due to clashes. We [Cyprus’s communities] survived and the early years after 1960 – following the founding of the Republic of Cyprus – were good. But in 1963, there was another bicommunal war. We were divided in half, and the 1974 operation officially split Cyprus in two parts.
All my life, gone with this separation.
I am one of the founders of Conflict Resolution, a bicommunal peace group set up in 1991. We started meeting with members of the Greek Cypriot community to learn about how to achieve peace and influence people on both sides to get together.
Things improved after Cyprus gained EU membership [in 2004] and the free movement of people across the line began. We are friends, so we visit and socialise. We are very interested in learning and sharing what’s happening in each community, like in the elections.
In the previous vote, Anastasiades got elected after promising a solution. But during his time in office, he couldn’t conclude the negotiations successfully.
Malas stresses the importance of peace and strongly supports a solution. In the first round, he went head-to-head with Anastasiades. But Anastasiades might now gain the support of the smaller right-wing parties by making deals with them and agreeing to their demands. He is also supported by the church, which increases his chances of getting elected.
On the Turkish Cypriot side, a four-party coalition government was established on Friday following the result of the January 7 election in Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. It is comprised of two social democratic, one liberal democratic and one right-wing party. This is more promising for a Cyprus agreement compared to the previous coalition government, led by the right-wing UBP.
Our country is still divided and since 1974 all peace talks have unfortunately failed. This is our sad story, especially for Turkish Cypriots because in the north we have many social and economic problems.
Yucel Vural – professor of political science and international relations at EMU
The first round of the presidential election in the Republic of Cyprus seems to facilitate a smooth return of the Greek Cypriot side to the negotiating table.
The results demonstrated that the Greek Cypriot electorate rejected the “policy of uncertainty” of [third-placed Nicolas] Papadopoulos and the “anti-federalist, ultranationalist programme” of [far-right party] ELAM.
This is also how most Turkish Cypriots read the election results.
Anastasiades and Malas sent clear messages that they will be ready to continue working to achieve a federal solution, with both not hesitating to announce publicly that they are ready to start intercommunal negotiations based on a UN framework.
But despite presenting themselves as candidates backing a federal solution, there is still a meaningful difference between the two.
Malas is supported by AKEL, a party which has the ideological capacity to understand and accept the political and institutional requirements of a federal solution in Cyprus.
Anastasiades, on the other hand, is backed by a party [right-wing Democratic Rally] which has attempted to transform its ideological and political stance on the Cyprus dispute from a conservative/ethnocentric outlook to a more inclusive and liberal perspective. Its conservative/ethnocentric past constitutes a handicap in intercommunal negotiations.
However, both candidates are aware of the fact that they should distance themselves from any action which postpones the resolution of the dispute.
In this sense, Sunday’s vote should be a message to the Turkish Cypriot leader and Turkey that returning to the negotiating table is the most rational reaction to the Greek Cypriot side.
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