North Cyprus (TRNC) 2013
Early legislative elections were held in the unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), or North Cyprus, on July 28, 2013. The Assembly of the Republic (Cumhuriyet Meclisi) is composed of 50 members elected for five-year terms by open list proportional representation (5% threshold). Voters may either vote for a party – in which case their votes go for every candidate on the party’s list – or they may split their votes themselves among several candidates from different parties. Legislators are elected in five multi-member constituencies – corresponding to the five administrative districts of North Cyprus. Lefkoşa (Nicosia) elects the most members, 16, followed by Gazimağusa (Famagusta) with 13 seats; Girne (Kyrenia) with 9 seats and İskele and Güzelyurt with 6 seats each.
Unlike the Republic of Cyprus, which is a presidential republic, the TRNC is a semi-presidential republic. The President, directly elected to a five-year term, has a more symbolic role as the guarantor of national unity and acting above partisan politics. He appoints high-ranking public officials, such as judges, and nominates the Prime Minister, but he has no veto power over legislation and the Prime Minister is responsible to the legislature. However, the President of the TRNC does maintain a significant profile as North Cyprus’ main representative in foreign affairs and diplomatic relations – given the Cyprus dispute, this means that the President is seen by the UN and the international community as the chief negotiator for Turkish Cypriots. The Prime Minister is responsible to the unicameral legislature, and holds most powers over domestic politics.
Background on the Cyprus dispute
Cyprus has been divided in two since 1974, when Turkey invaded the island and occupied the northern third of the island. The Republic of Cyprus is recognized as having de jure sovereignty over the whole island by the international community (except Turkey), but de facto it has only controlled the southern two-thirds of the island. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognized only by Turkey and exercises de facto sovereignty over about 35% of the island (against 60% for the Greek Cypriot-controlled Republic of Cyprus). The Republic of Cyprus has been a member state of the EU since 2004; while, officially, the entire island is a member of the EU because the TRNC is not recognized bu the EU, only the area controlled by the Republic of Cyprus enjoys the benefits of EU membership.
There has been a Turkish Cypriot minority on the island since the Ottoman Empire conquered Cyprus from the Venetians in 1570-1571. Over history, the size of Turkish Cypriot population has fluctuated – with a general decline observable since the nineteenth century – but it has generally hovered near 20% of the entire island’s population in the past decades. About a quarter of the entire Cypriot population currently lives in the TRNC, although these numbers include a large number of recent settlers from mainland Turkey which the Greek Cypriot government – backed by the international community – regards as “illegal migrants”.
Historically, the two ethnic communities on the island – Greeks and Turks – have identified politically, culturally, linguistically and religiously with Greece and Turkey respectively. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, both ethnic communities were transformed into mutually exclusive national communities, which further reinforced existing ethnic divisions and attachments to the “mother” country. As a legacy of the Ottoman millet system – which Britain continued after it took control of the island in 1878 (and officially annexed it as a crown colony in 1914) – both communities went their own separate ways. The Turkish Cypriots developed their own national consciousness slightly later than the Greeks, concomitantly with the rise of the Young Turks movement in Turkey and, later, Kemalist Turkish nationalism. Like Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots were socialized in an environment which emphasized belonging to the Turkish nation(-state, after 1923), and, by consequence, rejection of the ‘other’ (Greek Cypriots). Turkish Cypriots enthusiastically embraced Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s secular Turkish nationalism. Although religion certainly played a role in the national division of the Cypriot population, the main distinctions in the twentieth century were far more ethnic than religious – Turkish Cypriots identified as Turkish, not as Muslim (although Greek Cypriots remained extremely religious in the same period).
The anti-colonial struggle in Cyprus was never one for Cypriot independence. The Greek Cypriot dream was that of enosis, or political union with Greece. Eventually, enosis in the abstract was endorsed by all Greek Cypriot actors – including the Greek Cypriot Orthodox Church. For Turkish Cypriots, enosis was clearly unpalatable. Their national expression took the form of taksim, or partition, with the Turkish Cypriot community joining with Turkey. During the 1950s, Turkish Cypriots clashed with Greek Cypriot nationalists – the British authorities recruited Turkish Cypriots against the Greek Cypriot nationalist rebel organization (EOKA), and in 1958 Turkish Cypriots formed the Turkish Resistance Organization (TMT) to counter EOKA’s enotist violence. EOKA’s violence was both an anti-colonial struggle against Britain and a bloody ethnic conflict with Turkish Cypriots
Cypriot independence in 1960 was a compromise solution which pleased neither community but was the only feasible solution short of enosis or taksim. However, the power-sharing structure of the 1960 constitution soon proved unworkable because neither side – particularly the Greek Cypriot majority – had little interest in its success. In 1963, Greek Cypriot President Archbishop Makarios, responding to the deadlock resulting from the power-sharing institutional structure, proposed 13 constitutional amendments which would effectively abolish power-sharing in favour of traditional majority (ie: Greek Cypriot) rule. In 1963, enosis remained the ultimate goal of most Greek Cypriots – including Makarios – and independence was seen as a means to that end.
Intercommunal violence fighting broke out in December 1963, a throwback to the clashes between EOKA and TMT prior to 1960. Hundreds of civilians on both sides were killed, and Turkey threatened to intervene militarily until the US forced Ankara to back down. As a result of the 1963-1964 violence, Turkish Cypriots self-segregated into a number of enclaves throughout the island and withdrew from the political institutions of the Republic of Cyprus – which became a Greek Cypriot state. Self-segregated and enclaved, domestic political leadership of the Turkish Cypriot community was ensured by the Turkish Cypriot Vice President Fazıl Küçük and, later, the former leader of TMT, Rauf Denktaş. Fighting broke out again in 1967, and Turkey once again threatened to invade.
There was a thaw in intercommunal conflict after 1967, and there were renewed negotiations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots – although, like all talks which preceded and would follow, they proved unsuccessful. While intercommunal relations improved marginally after 1967, there were increasing tensions within the Greek Cypriot community. Makarios had progressively abandoned enosis, regarding it as unfeasible, and became a keen defender of Greek Cypriot independence. This displeased several radical nationalists, such as former EOKA leader George Grivas, who began plotting Makarios’ demise – in close collaboration with the new Greek military junta – after 1970. Dimitrios Ioannides’ accession to power in Athens in late 1973 brought things ever closer to conflagration, given that Ioannides had a pathological dislike of Makarios – who he saw as a communist and obstacle to enosis.
In July 1974, Greece – working with Grivas’ intransigent enotist terrorist organization EOKA-B – staged a coup in Nicosia, removing Makarios from office. The man installed in his stead was Nikos Sampson, described as “a gorilla-type with no compunctions against murder and assassination” and one who prided himself on having murdered Turks. Ioannides and Sampson’s intent was probably not to bring about confrontation with Turkey, but more likely to remove Makarios – seen as an obstacle – and enter direct negotiations with Turkey over enosis with compensation (likely military concessions to Turkey on the island). Turkey, however, did not see it thus and felt that Sampson would launch a genocide of Turkish Cypriots unless he was stopped. Turkey invaded Cyprus on July 20, 1974 – five days after the coup.
Three days later, Turkey agreed to a cease-fire. That same day, the Greek military regime collapsed – the politicians and military officers had finally grown a pair and refused to endorse Ioannides’ plan for all-out war with Turkey. Sampson’s government, similarly, collapsed in the absence of his benefactors in Athens. After talks between the various parties in Geneva failed, Turkey launched a second invasion in mid-August 1974, breaking out of cease-fire lines and seizing nearly 40% of the island – the northern half of the island, including the major seaports of Kyrenia and Famagusta and the northern half of the capital, Nicosia. Up to 200,000 Greek Cypriots living in the northern half of the island became refugees, forced to abandon their property and flee to the south. Some 50,000 Turkish Cypriots living in the south were re-settled in the north.
Turkey, to this day, claims that its military intervention was justified under the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee, which gave Cyprus’ three ‘guarantor powers’ (Greece, Turkey and the UK) the right to intervene – militarily if needed – to restore the intent of the 1960 constitution. This interpretation has been rejected by the entirety of the international community/the UN, which contends the invasion was illegal and has urged all states to deny diplomatic recognition to the TRNC.
In 1983, the Turkish Cypriots unilaterally declared independence as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognized as a sovereign state only by Turkey. The Greek Cypriot government, and most of the international community, regard the TRNC as an illegitimate and illegal Turkish pupper state/protectorate under continued Turkish military occupation. As a result, foreign trade with the TRNC is extremely restricted, and the TRNC’s main points of entry (harbours and airports) are unrecognized – thus effectively closed. International flights to and from the TRNC, for example, must have a stopover in Turkey.
After the invasion, Turkey encouraged a large number of settlers from mainland Turkey to move to North Cyprus. The international community and the Republic of Cyprus argue that this immigration contravenes international law, and the Greek Cypriot treats these settlers as “illegal aliens” and does not include them in their population counts for the entire island. It is unclear how many settlers have been brought over to North Cyprus; the Republic of Cyprus government often likes to claim that they constitute a majority of the TRNC’s population, and that native Turkish Cypriots are a minority. According to the TRNC’s 2006 census, 27.5% of the TRNC’s residents are only Turkish citizens (an additional 13% have dual TRNC-Turkish citizenship). Of those who are citizens of the TRNC, 63% were born in the TRNC, 18.3% were born in the south and 15.6% were born in Turkey. Overall, 45% of the TRNC’s resident population was born in the TRNC, 12.7% were born in the south and 37% (94.7k) were born in Turkey.
There have been countless attempts at a negotiated settlement since 1974. Invariably, all of these talks broke down, although both sides managed to agree early on that the framework for any solution would need to be federal, bi-zonal and bi-communal. The blockage points have often been the same over the years: the constitutional framework of the new state (with Turkish Cypriots advocating for a more confederal structure, and Greeks for a more centralized federation), refugees’ right of return (Greek Cypriots wants refugees to be able to return and reclaim their lost property in the north), the nature of the ‘bi-zonal/bi-communal’ state (should Greek Cypriots be allowed to settle freely in the north?), the withdrawal of Turkish troops (which Turkish Cypriots feel are essential for their security) and the rights/repatriation of Turkish settlers (Greek Cypriots would like to see most of them leave). During all these fruitless talks, most laid the blame on TRNC President Rauf Denktaş, who was widely perceived – quite rightfully – as an intransigent hardliner hostile to any settlement. However, in almost all talks, both the Greek and Turkish Cypriots have stuck to maximalist positions.
In 2004, the Annan Plan – named after UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan – was the closest both sides came to agreement. While 65% of Turkish Cypriots voted in favour, nearly 76% of Greek Cypriots voted against. Greek Cypriots had little incentive to support the plan, given that they were to join the EU regardless six days later. Furthermore, they were unwilling to shoulder the costs of reunification with the poorer north and had several legitimate concerns with the content of the plan (the proposed constitutional framework and the issue of Turkish troops most notably). For Turkish Cypriots, however, the prospect of EU membership and the benefits that went along far outweighed any concerns with the content of the plan. The 2004 referendum marked a change in perceptions of the international community – frustration was now directed towards Greek Cypriots, seen as intransigent, while Turkish Cypriots became viewed in a more positive light.
The Greek Cypriots felt that they could use their EU membership as a tool to exert more pressure on Turkey and North Cyprus to reach a solution on their terms. As EU members, they have used their weight to block EU attempts to normalize relations with the TRNC, in the form of easing trade restrictions and 259 million euro in aid.
The election of Dimitris Christofias, a pro-reunification communist, to the Greek Cypriot presidency in 2008 was welcomed by many as a positive development, especially given his close ties with then-TRNC President Mehmet Ali Talat, who is pro-reunification. However, talks between Christofias and Talat were unsuccessful. Talat’s defeat in 2010 and his replacement by nationalist candidate Derviş Eroğlu was considered a setback, although talks continued after Eroğlu’s victory – again, with no success or resolution in sight. The new President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, had endorsed the Annan Plan in 2004 and is considered as pro-reunification. However, talks remain on the ice and are a secondary concern for both sides, particularly the Greek Cypriots given the major economic crisis in Cyprus.
TRNC Parties and issues
There seems to be a common misconception that the TRNC is a rogue Turkish puppet state under military occupation/rule; a view which the Republic of Cyprus does little to counter. For example, the Greek Cypriot government and media often refers to any political developments in the north using scare quotes – referring to the “TRNC” “government”.
In reality, the TRNC is a multiparty democracy, elections are free and fair, and it is considered a ‘free country’. Freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly and association are generally respected (see Freedom in the World‘s 2013 report). However, male homosexuality remains illegal and is punishable with jail time.
Of course, the TRNC remains heavily dependent on Turkey – politically, militarily and economically – so to a certain extent it could be seen as a Turkish protectorate/puppet state. Ankara itself feels that it has the final word on political decisions on the TRNC, and especially under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan it has not hesitated to step in over the head of the TRNC leadership on issues of direct interest to Turkey (first and foremost, the Cyprus dispute). Few political decisions in the TRNC are taken without Turkish approval. On the ground, the TRNC’s police forces are under the control of the Turkish military.
The dominant party in TRNC politics has generally been the National Unity Party (Ulusal Birlik Partisi, UBP), a right-wing nationalist party founded by former TRNC President Rauf Denktaş in 1975. The UBP has opposed reunification, either unofficially by blocking talks or outright by declaring openly its support for the status-quo and de facto partition of the island. Up until the 1990s and 2000s, the UBP held a dominant position in Turkish Cypriot politics and most voters endorsed Rauf Denktaş’ nationalist stances. However, tensions grew within the party as a result of clashes between President Denktaş and Prime Minister Derviş Eroğlu (1985-1993).
In 1993, they suffered their first defeat in legislative elections because the creation, from pro-Denktaş UBP MPs, of Democratic Party (DP) which formed a coalition with the leftist Republican Turkish Party (CTP). The UBP returned to power in 1996, with Eroğlu serving as Prime Minister until 2003. In the early 2000s, voters increasingly opposed the UBP and Denktaş’ hardline anti-reunification stance due to growing economic difficulties. The UBP lost the 2003 elections to the pro-reunification CTP, and CTP leader Mehmet Ali Talat became the TRNC’s second president in 2005, when Denktaş retired.
Rauf Denktaş and Derviş Eroğlu’s hardline anti-reunification positions and their opposition to the Annan Plan in 2004 seriously irked Turkey. After Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the 2002 elections in Turkey, Ankara pursued a pro-European policy, eyeing EU membership. It came to view the Cyprus dispute as a major roadblock to its own EU aspirations, and Erdoğan exerted significant pressure on Denktaş to prove more conciliatory in the talks which led to the Annan Plan.
After the referendum, the UBP has somewhat moderated its nationalist positions. In the 2005 election (which it lost), the UBP emphasized that it supported a solution, but that it should be on Turkish Cypriots’ terms. In the 2010 presidential election, UBP candidate Derviş Eroğlu repeated that negotiations would continue without conditions if he won (as he did).
In the early 2000s, the Republican Turkish Party (Cumhuriyetçi Türk Partisi, CTP) became the main opposition to the UBP and the standard-bearer of pro-reunification voters. The CTP was founded in 1970 by an anti-Denktaş lawyer. Between 1976 and 1996, the CTP, led by Özker Özgür, was a very left-wing (pro-Soviet/socialist) party and fairly weak force in TRNC politics (although its vote share increased from 13% to 24% between 1976 and 1993). After 1996, Mehmet Ali Talat moved to the party towards the centre, mellowing the leftist nature of the party and building closer ties with pro-reunification business leaders.
In the 2003 elections, fought over the Annan Plan, the UBP suffered major loses while the CTP’s vote share went from 13% (1998) to 35%. However, the CTP and a smaller pro-reunification party only won 25 seats altogether, exactly half of the Assembly. It formed a governing coalition with the Democratic Party (DP), which was neutral on the hot issue of reunification. In the 2005 elections, there was still significant optimism in North Cyprus that things would get better despite the failure of the Annan Plan; a feeling bred by the perception that the international community would be more understanding and conciliatory with the TRNC after they had supported the Annan Plan. The CTP campaigned on a platform promoting international and European integration, promising to improve living conditions and breaking the TRNC’s isolation. The CTP won 45% in the legislative elections and Talat was elected president by the first round, taking 55% of the vote.
Disappointment quickly set in, however. The EU promised to ease restrictions on trade and to provide 259 million euros in aid, but these promises quickly got squashed by Greek Cypriot opposition. Similarly, new regulations in 2004 aimed at liberalizing the movement of goods and persons across the partition line (Green Line) were quite watered down and did not mark a significant change. However, travel across the line was made much simpler and Turkish Cypriots were able to obtain Republic of Cyprus/EU passports (although in 2008, Turkey banned Turkish Cypriots from leaving the country through Turkey without TRNC passports). The CTP government also operated a number of changes aimed at reconciliation: it changed the education curriculum to promote a less biased, less nationalist view of history; it formed a property commission to adjudicate complaints related to property disputes.
As noted above, there was early hope that Dimitris Christofias’ election in the south in 2008 would boost talks with the TRNC. After all, the CTP was seen as the northern ‘sister party’ of Christofias’ Greek Cypriot communist party (AKEL) and both men were on good terms with one another. However, there was little progress and the Greek Cypriot government continued to act in a fashion which many Turkish Cypriots interpreted to mean that they were unwilling to accept a power-sharing solution.
The TRNC’s economy boomed between 2004 and 2007, thanks to a major growth in tourist investment and construction (many foreigners began buying holiday homes in the TRNC). The right criticized the CTP for distributing economic gains through wage increases for civil servants and workers. After 2007, when the economic crisis began to set in, the CTP’s policies – increasing the prices of goods and services – were unpopular. The CTP lost the support of business leaders and right-wing voters who had backed it in the 2003 and 2005 elections.
The CTP suffered a major defeat in the 2009 legislative elections, winning only 29% to the UBP’s 44%. In 2010, Talat lost reelection to UBP Derviş Eroğlu, 50% to 43% in the first round. All in all, the 2009-2010 elections reflected dissatisfaction and disillusion with the CTP’s promises of international and European integration. The vote against the CTP could be read both as a rebuke of Talat and the CTP’s domestic policies, but also as a rebuke of the EU which Turkish Cypriots felt failed to live up to its promises.
The Democratic Party (Demokrat Parti, DP) has been the kingmaker party in Turkish Cypriot legislative politics. The DP was founded in 1992 by nine dissident pro-Denktaş UBP parliamentarians who opposed then-Prime Minister Derviş Eroğlu’s governing style. The DP has been led, in fact, by Rauf Denktaş’ son, Serdar Denktaş. The DP is a fairly weird beast, in that its ranks historically included people close to the nationalist Rauf Denktaş and others who were more liberal, moderate. Serdar Denktaş himself has tended to be more moderate on the Cyprus dispute than his late father; one author said that while Rauf Denktaş was a Turkish nationalist, Serdar Denktaş was more of a Turkish Cypriot nationalist. The DP was neutral on the Annan Plan; it says that it was more honest and realistic than either the CTP or the UBP in that they gave the pros and cons of the plan, critics of the party say that it is vague and without clear positions. In the 2003, 2005 and 2009 legislative elections, the DP took moderate stances, reflecting its nature as the kingmaker party. The DP formed government with the CTP between 1993 and 1996, with the UBP between 1996 and 1998 and with the CTP again between 2003 and 2006.
The DP’s support has declined since its creation; from 29% in 1993 its support fell to only 11% in 2009. Despite the historical enmity between Denktaş and Eroğlu (Eroğlu ran – and lost – against Rauf Denktaş in the 2000 presidential election), the DP supported Eroğlu in 2010.
The Communal Democracy Party (Toplumcu Demokrasi Partisi, TDP) is a small left-wing party founded in 2007, as a continuation of the social democratic Communal Liberation Party (TKP), founded in 1976, and the Peace and Democracy Movement (BDH). The TKP was originally a social democratic alternative to the right-wing UBP, more moderate than the hard-left CTP. However, the roles switched after 2003, when the CTP moved towards the centre and allied with right-wing forces. The TDP, similarly to the CTP, supports Cypriot reunification (and EU membership) and its component parties enthusiastically endorsed the Annan Plan in 2004.
The TDP, and the TKP/BDH before it, tends to be the most anti-Turkey of all the main parties (although not openly so). It emphasizes a Turkish Cypriot identity, reaching out to ‘native’ Turkish Cypriots as opposed to Turkish migrants.
A number of smaller parties have come and gone over the years, most of them representing more sectarian causes or minority political opinions (radical nationalism/far-right, Turkish settlers, ‘native Cypriots’ etc). The Freedom and Reform Party (Özgürlük ve Reform Partisi, ÖRP), born in fairly controversial circumstances in 2006, won 2 seats in 2009. It was created by 3 dissident UBP MPs and one DP MP; its foundation coincided with the breakdown of the CTP-DP coalition reelected in 2005, the ÖRP proceeded to take the DP’s place in the coalition. Some alleged that the Turkish AKP was involved in the party’s creation to reduce the influence of the Denktaş clan, which was very critical of the AKP. It seems to have folded back into the UBP by now.
Only one small party contested this election, the United Cyprus Party (Birleşik Kıbrıs Partisi, BKP), a strongly pro-reunification socialist splinter from the CTP founded in 2002. The BKP strongly emphasizes the ‘native Cypriot’ identity, and warns native Turkish Cypriots of the risk of becoming a minority in their country because of Turkish immigration.
With the exception of the 2003 and 2005 elections, most elections have been fought over domestic issues – and by consequence a more familiar left-right battle. Domestic issues, notably the TRNC’s economic health, made their return in the 2009 and 2010 elections, playing against the incumbent CTP.
The TRNC, in good part because of the international embargo against it, is poorer and less economically developed than the Greek Cypriot south. As a result, it is heavily dependent on Turkish economic support – Ankara provides the TRNC government with aid and money. Between 1974 and 2004, Turkey provided $3.07 billion of financial aid to the TRNC, and Ankara invested in numerous infrastructure projects. In 2008, Turkish aid and credits constituted 38% of government revenue. The Turkish Cypriot economy has traditionally been quite reliant on a very large public sector, and the TRNC government has contracted large deficits as a result of spending heavily on generous wages and pensions. Most imports come from Turkey, most exports go to Turkey. The TRNC’s economy has performed better since 2004, notably with a tourism boom
In the past months, we have heard a whole lot about the economic crisis in the Greek Cypriot south, derived from the banking crisis – the IMF bailout, the very controversial ‘haircut’ of large depositors and austerity measures imposed by the IMF. Yet, the TRNC is going through a similar round of austerity measures – except that there is no IMF, rather the TRNC’s IMF is Turkey itself. Turkish Cypriot economic policy has been directed by Turkey, through bilateral economic protocols, in which Ankara imposes its own macroeconomic policy direction on the TRNC. The latest protocol was signed in December 2012; it includes reducing government intervention, transforming the state into a ‘regulatory state’, reducing patronage, ‘efficiency’ in the public sector and boosting the role of the private sector.
The most controversial aspect of the Turkey-TRNC protocol is privatization: electricity, telecommunications and harbours will be privatized in 2013. Turkish Cypriots leftists and trade unions have opposed the protocol; they claim it does nothing to address certain issues (roadblocks faced by exporters, how to boost private investment, the working conditions in the private sector) and the claim that the state-owned companies will be sold off to Turkish capital groups aligned with the AKP is ruffling feathers. In 2011, thousands of Turkish Cypriots had already protested against Turkish-imposed austerity measures. Turkey retorts that if its measures are not adopted, the TRNC – which has a very large public debt (estimated at 145% of GDP) – will face bankruptcy. Furthermore, Turkey threatens to cut off the flow of cash which the TRNC needs to pay its public servants.
UBP Prime Minister İrsen Küçük’s government fell in May 2013 after eight UBP MPs resigned from the governing party and supported a vote of no-confidence brought forward by the CTP, DP and TDP. Trouble had been brewing within the governing party for about a year, with the eight dissidents undermining Küçük’s leadership and supporting a leadership challenge against him in February. They criticized the Prime Minister for having changed the face of the party “beyond recognition”, claiming it was now characterized by bribes, nepotism and corruption. Küçük was also criticized by the public for being too keen to support Turkey’s austerity policies. Some say Erdoğan’s hand in the fall of the government, arguing that it was all part of the Turkish Prime Minister’s strategy to weaken President Eroğlu, who isn’t on good term with Erdoğan since the 2004 Annan Plan referendum.
İrsen Küçük was replaced as Prime Minister by Sibel Siber (CTP), the TRNC’s first woman Prime Minister, who formed a caretaker government made up of the opposition parties (CTP, DP, TDP).
Turnout was approximately 69.6%, a major decline from 2009 (81%) and 2010 (76%), and likely the lowest turnout in Turkish Cypriot history. This likely reflects dissatisfaction with the major parties; but also the poor timing of the vote – during the Muslim month of Ramadan and while many were abroad on summer holidays.
CTP 38.38% (+9.23%) winning 21 seats (+6)
UBP 27.33% (-16.74%) winning 14 seats (-12)
DP 23.16% (+12.51%) winning 12 seats (+7)
TDP 7.41% (+0.54%) winning 3 seats (+1)
BKP 3.15% (+0.73%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Independents 0.57% (+0.43%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The pro-reunification CTP won the most votes and seats in the election, a significant increase on its poor performance in the 2009 elections (when it won only 29.2%). The CTP’s strong result is likely due to opposition to the Turkish austerity protocol, which was very poorly received by the left and the CTP’s traditional trade unionist allies. However, there appears to be little optimism left in the CTP – either for a resolution to the Cyprus dispute or a change in economic policy.
In contrast, the UBP suffered very significant loses. 27.3% is the UBP’s worst performance in a legislative election. Former Prime Minister İrsen Küçük lost his seat, a major rebuke to the former head of government, which could also be interpreted as a major rebuke for Ankara given Küçük’s reputation as pro-Ankara.
The major winner was Serdar Denktaş’ DP, which, after years of near-constant decline – down to barely 11% in the last election – did extremely well, winning 23.2%, its second best result after its inaugural election (1993: 29%). The DP benefit from defections from the UBP and voter dissatisfaction with both major parties. Additionally, Serdar Denktaş’ eleventh-hour declaration that he opposed Turkey’s privatization plans may have boosted his party’s support.
The CTP did best in Lefkoşa District, a traditional stronghold of the left and the district which saw the strongest support for the Annan Plan in 2004. With one exception, İskele, the CTP’s votes were fairly evenly distributed in the other districts, as is usually the case. The DP performed best in İskele and Gazimağusa districts, winning 30.3% and 26.1% respectively. Both of these districts have a large Turkish settler population which traditionally splits its votes between the Denktaş’ clan’s DP and the nationalist UBP, with the CTP doing quite poorly with those votes. This is particularly true in İskele, an impoverished and isolated district covering the Karpass peninsula – it has a very high settler population, and had the highest amount of ‘no’ votes in the 2004 referendum.
There are three potential governing coalitions which could come out of this election, and all of them promise to be quite fractious. The most likely option is a CTP-DP coalition, similar to that which governed between 2003 and 2006. The DP is a kingmaker party and has little problems in governing with the CTP. However, there is potentially some leftover bad blood between the two parties – in 2006, the DP was kicked out of the coalition in favour of the nascent ÖRP, which the DP is convinced was the result of a plot between the CTP and the AKP to remove them from government. Both the CTP and DP are more anti-Ankara and cooler on the Turkish austerity measures, but the CTP has hinted that it will have no choice but to approve them anyway (although it says it will “do its best” to alter parts which they say are damaging to Turkish Cypriots).
On the off chance that a CTP-DP coalition falls through, the two other options are a grand coalition between the CTP and UBP, or a nationalistic coalition of the UBP and DP. A CTP-UBP coalition is said to be Ankara’s preferred option, given that it would likely adhere to the Turkey-TRNC protocol and be more conciliatory when another round of talks with the south are due to kick off in October. However, it is hard to see the CTP and UBP agreeing to govern together. The other option is a UBP-DP coalition. Given that the DP brought down the UBP in May and that a lot of the DP’s caucus likely consists of UBP defectors, it is tough to see both parties patching up again. Such a government would be the most hardline in talks with the south, which the AKP certainly wouldn’t appreciate.
What is likely to change? Not much. The top concern for voters in this election, like for Greek Cypriots in the presidential elections earlier this year in the Republic of Cyprus, was the economy and austerity policies. On that front, the Turkish government still has the final say over the TRNC’s economy and the structural reforms it wants to implement. Ankara has not hesitated to lay it out clearly: accept our terms, or we’ll cut off the cash and you won’t be able to pay public servants. The TRNC’s parties and politicians, even if they all quite enjoy pretending that they’re important and that they can tell Turkey what to do, has little choice but to bow down to their IMF’s directives.
The other issue, always hiding somewhere in Cypriot politics, is the Cyprus dispute. Talks – yet again – will open in October. At this point, few regular people seem to care much about it. The Greek Cypriots are unlikely to have much appetite to take these talks further and they have more important things on their plate at the moment. The Turkish Cypriots are exhausted by the talks, and Eroğlu is saying that the October talks will be the “last chance”. Turkey still favours a solution, and Turkish Cypriots on the whole probably do to, but both seem to understand that a negotiated settlement is looking ever more unlikely. The Republic of Cyprus can continue to play games and put the TRNC in scare quotes, but since 2004 the status-quo – as a EU member state – has become a more attractive solution than the painful give-and-take compromises reunification would necessarily involve.