Turk Cypriots divided

NICOSIA – The Turkish-Cypriot opposition took a slim lead yesterday in crucial elections that could shape the future of Cyprus and help define Turkey’s relations with the European Union, early election results showed. Opposition parties support a UN-backed plan to reunify the island, which becomes a member of the EU in May whether or not it remains divided. Hardline Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash argues that the plan would lead to domination by the richer Greek-Cypriot south of the island. Early election results showed votes almost evenly split between two opposition parties and two hardline parties. With votes from 390 of the 554 ballot boxes counted, the pro-EU Republican Turkish Party and the Peace and Democracy Movement together had 49.5 percent. The two parties have vowed to form an alliance if they win. Meanwhile, the National Unity Party and the Democrat Party had 45 percent of the vote, according to the High Elections Board. Both parties oppose the UN-sponsored reunification plan and are currently serving in a coalition government. The rest of the votes were spread among three smaller parties, which are not expected to break the vote threshold needed to enter the legislative body. Seats in the 50-member body are divided according to a complicated formula that takes into account the population of the district casting the votes. It is not clear that a party that wins a slight majority in the elections would gain a majority of seats. «The people seem to be divided into camps,» said Serdar Denktash, son of the Turkish-Cypriot leader and leader of the Democrat Party. Hasan Obali, 33, said he voted for the pro-EU opposition parties to help end the isolation of the breakaway Turkish state in the north, which only Ankara recognizes. «The opposition are the only ones to defend the true interests of the Turkish-Cypriot people,» he said, casting his vote at a polling booth at the resort town of Kyrenia. «We support peace and a European lifestyle and reintegration with the world.» Vedat Oktunc said he feared Greek-Cypriot domination and voted for the pro-Denktash National Unity Party of Dervis Eroglu. «A win (by pro-Denktash parties) will provide protection,» he said. The opposition has pledged to remove Denktash as chief negotiator in peace talks. Denktash is not up for re-election until 2005.