A chance for Cyprus after the elections

Today’s 33rd anniversary of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus finds the problem of the island’s division as persistent as ever. There are unlikely to be any surprises in the near future. Everyone agrees that the foreseeable future will be rather predictable as the elections which are due to be held in Cyprus, Turkey and Greece over the next few months do not justify hopes of any new initiatives. Seen from another point of view, however, the end of the respective election periods could bring new hope for some progress on the Cyprus problem, even a solution. Once Ankara, Athens and Nicosia have finished with their election tasks and are free of the pressures which polls entail, they will be in a position to get to grips with a possible new initiative with the necessary flexibility. With this eventuality in mind, the United Nations is trying to lay the groundwork for negotiations next spring when the political stage will have cleared in all three countries. Elections in Greece and Turkey are not expected to bring a significant change in the stances of Athens and Ankara. In Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears the likeliest victor in general elections this Sunday, although his probable inability to form a strong majority government will restrict his scope for bold initiatives. Initially, he will focus on reforming the constitution and from next year he will be able to turn his attention to the Cyprus problem, which he claims to want to resolve. In Greece, if Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis is re-elected, he aims to promote the «normalization» of Greek-Turkish relations. If the public opt for opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou, who has years of experience of Greek-Turkish ties and the Cyprus problem, he is likely to support some initiative by the international community. Developments in Cyprus are likely to yield a more conclusive outcome. This applies less to the Turkish-Cypriot community, whose leader, Mehmet Ali Talat, is likely to retain his post, with the backing of Erdogan and the international community. But elections in the Republic of Cyprus, due next February, are likely to be of major significance. The Cyprus «equation» changed after the 2004 referendum, when Greek Cypriots rejected the Annan plan and were accused of obstructing efforts to reunite the island. While the Turkish Cypriots removed their «negative» former leader Rauf Denktash, the Greek Cypriots replaced the compromising stance of former president Glafkos Clerides with the «hard line» of his successor, Tassos Papadopoulos. This policy did not lead to isolation, as many had feared, but it has led to the current impasse. Papadopoulos’s rivals for the presidency appear to be more willing for compromise and are promising immediate action. Unless we see an unexpected upset in Turkey this weekend, developments in Cyprus will be determined by presidential elections in Cyprus, not by Greek and Turkish polls.

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