Debate is all about EU for Turk Cypriots

NICOSIA (AFP) – The prospect of reuniting with rival Greek Cypriots and joining the European Union has polarized voters in the breakaway Turkish statelet of northern Cyprus ahead of key parliamentary elections tomorrow. Isolated from the international community for three decades, 141,000 voters in the breakaway state will cast their votes in polls which could have repercussions for the EU enlargement process and Turkey’s own bid to join the pan-European bloc. «Perhaps for the first time in their history, the decision of the Turkish Cypriots will mean more than their size,» said Mustafa Akinci, an opposition leader. The three opposition parties have pledged to resume talks with the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot side on a UN plan to end the island’s 29-year division in time for its accession to the EU in May next year. The breakaway state is recognized only by Turkey. Capitalizing on exasperation with international isolation and economic hardships, the opposition thinks it is winning and wants to sideline Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, who rejected the UN peace plan in March. For pro-Denktash parties, which currently hold power, the peace plan, drawn up by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, aims only to destroy the breakaway state, force Turkish Cypriots back into their place as a minority under Greek-Cypriot dominance and end Turkey’s influence on the island. The opposition, meanwhile, maintains that the reunification scheme, which envisages a federation between Turkish and Greek component states, will ensure their political equality and pave the way toward the EU. The fierce campaigning has reached such levels that government parties are accusing the opposition of treason, while the opposition counters that ruling forces are only trying to preserve their «sultanate.» Everybody – from newspapers to non-governmental organizations – has taken sides in what appears to be a close race. Party flags adorn the windows of shops and restaurants and the Annan plan is a topic of conversation in the coffee shops dotting the narrow streets of the divided capital Nicosia.