New reality on Cyprus

The success of Dervis Eroglu in the leadership elections in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus on Sunday marked a victory by the traditional establishment over Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-leaning AKP government. In an unexpected move back in 2004, Erdogan pressured then Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash out of the breakaway state’s presidential race. Nevertheless, Turkey’s EU prospects were still healthy and the AKP’s rift with the secular establishment was still under control. It was against this backdrop of false optimism that Mehmet Ali Talat came to power in 2005. His defeat on Sunday brings Serdar Denktash, the son of Rauf Denktash, back on the Turkish-Cypriot negotiating team. Denktash senior is also said to be gaining a behind-the-scenes role. A new equilibrium is emerging in the breakaway enclave. It’s significance is at present being reduced to a symbolic level because neither Eroglu nor either of the Denktash duo are capable of resisting pressure from Erdogan. They can at best be used as a vehicle for a head-on collision between the secular establishment and the Islamic government. The fact is that the people have voted for Eroglu, the Turkish premier has said that negotiations must continue and the new president has agreed to that. Everyone is on standby. The new reality for the Turkish Cypriots will have consequences for Greek Cypriots. Ankara and international mediators will probably urge Eroglu to water down his extremist views. Accordingly, Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias will be urged to show greater flexibility to overcome the deadlock and further unification efforts. There is no time frame but Erdogan has risked a prediction that a settlement can be reached by year-end. However, there is little to suggest that the problem can be solved in the next eight months with Eroglu at the helm. The real surprise rather would be if Eroglu were to shed his intransigent views. But this is highly unlikely.

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