OPINION

Murky game with referendums

As previous leaks revealed, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had not just a second set of amendments in his luggage, but also the procedural proposal for referring the plan to a referendum, without the previous agreement and signatures of the two Cypriot community leaders. Since it is not institutionally possible to bypass them, he is asking them to sign a declaration that they accept this internationally unprecedented procedure, which is tantamount to their own invalidation. Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash seems determined to torpedo the solution by any means. A few weeks ago he said that on February 28 he would ask for a referendum from his community (and the settlers) to approve or reject his actions. But it is not sure that he will do so, since the great majority of Turkish Cypriots support the proposed solution, as their large demonstration yesterday proved. The crucial issue is the evolving internal dispute in Turkey. Ruling party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statements evince a political will to exercise general influence, but do not bind Ankara. As long as Turkey does not withdraw support for Denktash, there will be no progress. There will be developments only if the balance within Turkey is upset. In that case, the Turkish-Cypriot leader will resign or be ousted. There are no clear indications that this is likely, but it could happen in the near future. Greek-Cypriot President-elect Tassos Papadopoulos has serious reservations about the new plan. He also disagrees with sending the plan straight to a referendum. But he won’t show his cards until the Turkish scene is clear. There is concern in Nicosia. They know Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis favors Annan’s approach and fear Athens will support it behind the scenes, especially if the balance changes in the meantime in Ankara.