Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Turkish Cypriot Elections Confirm Status Quo, but Times May Be Changing

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Turkish Cypriot Elections Confirm Status Quo, but Times May Be Changing

Article excerpt

Like many an election or referendum on the divided island of Cyprus, February's balloting among Turkish Cypriots left two diametrically opposed impressions on either side of the U.N.-patrolled Green Line.

In the north, the victory of Mehmet Ali Talat's Republican Turkish Party (CTP) was heralded by supporters and international organizations as a triumph for reconciliation and the ending of divisions. In the south, however, the voting was either ignored or dismissed, with President Tassos Papadopolous even accusing Talat of wanting to split up the island still further.

Perceptions, then, are as far apart as ever. Since last April, when Greek and Turkish Cypriots cast divergent votes over the latest U.N.-sponsored peace plan, little appears to have changed on either side. In the Greek Cypriot south of the divided capital, Nicosia, shops still display the "no" posters from that referendum, while in the northern Turkish Cypriot part of the city, many citizens still await some reward from the international community for having given a resounding "yes" to the same Annan Plan.

At the same time, there is also a sense of "Cyprus fatigue" among the international players involved in trying to find a solution to the decades-old division. The U.N., which had placed a great deal of hope and political capital in the Annan Plan, has largely dismantled its Cyprus team, assigning its key players to other hot spots. Meanwhile, since the Republic of Cyprus joined the European Union last May 1, the EU has been struggling to deliver on pre-referendum promises made to the Turkish Cypriots of aid and an end to their economic isolation.

Neither the U.N. nor the EU, however, looks likely to try and mount any major diplomatic initiative in the near future, arguing privately that neither can afford another failure like the Annan Plan referendum. At the same time, while both Papadopoulos and veteran Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash have both declared their willingness to begin face-to-face talks, most analysts and Cyprus watchers on both sides suggest that neither is really that interested.

"The [Greek Cypriot] government is rather determined not to return to the negotiating table," according to James Ker-Lindsay, director of the Greek Cyprus-based Civilitas think tank. "It's a question of what this means, though-is it a fundamental objection to doing so, or a temporary position?"

At the same time, Denktash has a global reputation as "Mr. No" when it comes to finding a settlement. The fact that so many people voted for Talat, known among Turkish Cypriots as the standard bearer of pro-settlement politics, demonstrates how little is expected of any Denktash-inspired negotiations.

Meanwhile, although some 44.5 percent of Turkish Cypriots did vote for Talat, giving the CTP exactly half the deputies in the 50-seat parliament and a 10 percentage point lift from their showing in the previous 2003 elections, most of their voting gains came at the expense of other pro-settlement parties. In particular, Mustafa Akinci's Peace and Democracy Party (BDH) took a drubbing from the CTP, reducing its parliamentary representation from six seats to just one.

Votes for the anti-settlement National Unity Party (UBP) stayed much as ever, as did votes for the more ambiguous Democrat Party (DP), headed by Rauf Denktash's son, Serdar.

If anything, then, the election showed a consolidation of the left wing, where pro-settlement sentiment has always been concentrated, and no real movement on the right.

Factors for Change

Yet all may not be gloom and doom. Two factors are still out there on the horizon that already are exercising their magnetic pull on events. The first is that Rauf Denktash will be stepping down in April, when the Turkish Cypriots will return to the ballot boxes to elect a new president. …

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