Something is changing on Cyprus

The first round of elections for the leader of the Turkish Cypriots last Sunday did not result in a winner but it showed that many voters support change – change on the political scene and emphasis on their Turkish-Cypriot identity. The second round this Sunday will determine the winner but will also reflect the potential for progress in the reunification talks which are expected to resume next month. “Until the second vote, the cauldron of politics will keep boiling… and probably continue,” distinguished Turkish-Cypriot journalist Yusuf Kanli wrote in Hurriyet Daily News.

It became evident in recent months that many in northern Cyprus were unhappy with the situation – with the political establishment, with corruption, and with Ankara’s persistent efforts to change what is a largely secular society with “Turkification” and intensive construction of mosques. “People want to regain their dignity,” commented a Turkish-Cypriot journalist. She noted that voters were divided between those who benefited from the system and those who wanted to see change. Significantly, many settlers from Turkey (who are estimated at about half the total population), especially among the second generation, appear to want change also. When constitutional changes were put to the vote, some 65 percent rejected them because even though they introduced progressive articles they did not eradicate the article that gives Turkey absolute authority over the territory.

The first round of voting confirmed the prediction that voters would break out of their political party confines.

Conservative Dervis Eroglu, who was elected leader of the self-declared Turkish-Cypriot state in the first round in 2010, won 28.2 percent, with leftist Mustafa Akinci following with 26.9 percent, on his return to politics after a long absence. Third with 22.7 percent was the parliament speaker Sibel Siber, whose socialist party governs northern Cyprus and dropped nearly 10 percent from what it got in last year’s mayoral elections. Fourth, in another surprise, was independent Kudret Ozersay, who until recently was the Turkish-Cypriot representative in the reunification talks and who, with 21.5 percent, took votes from Eroglu.

Akinci may bring an air of renewal because he has been out of politics since 2006, but he is also well known on both sides of the line forged by the Turkish invasion of 1974: He was a successful mayor of northern Nicosia in the 1980s. Polls show that he is the most acceptable Turkish-Cypriot politician to Greek Cypriots. His emphasis on a Turkish-Cypriot identity, his good relations with President Nicos Anastasiades (they are both from Limassol), his stated desire for a federal solution and his proposal for the return of Varosha to Greek Cypriots are all positive signs. It is not certain that Akinci will be elected. But something is changing on Cyprus and we may be in for more surprises.

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