Hopes for a unified Cyprus fade

Mari Shibata 11 June 2009

Turkish Cypriot nationalists have swept to victory in a parliamentary election in northern Cyprus – a result that could seriously damage peace talks with Greek Cypriots.

According to provisional election results released by the Turkish Cypriot administration with 89% of the votes counted, the right-wing National Unity Party (UBP), which favors closer links with Turkey rather than EU membership, has won 44% of the vote, leaving the ruling Republican Turkish Party (CTP) with only 29%. Just under 162,000 people were eligible to participate in Sunday’s election.

Since 1974, Cyprus has been divided after a Turkish invasion triggered by a brief Greek inspired coup. The last attempt at a negotiated solution to the Cypriot problem, in 2004, collapsed when Turkish Cypriots voted in favour of a UN settlement plan that was overwhelmingly rejected by Greek Cypriot voters. This resulted in the southern part – ruled by Greek Cypriots – joining the EU that year, while the Turkish north remained excluded. There have been very small steps towards a future resolution of the situation between the north and south such as the symbolic reopening of Ledra Street in the Cypriot capital, Nicosia.

Representing the partition of the island, Ledra Street was divided in 1964 due to violence between the ethnic communities of Greek and Turkish Cypriots, and was finally re-opened in April 2008. However,opinion polls suggest that on the issue of re-unification, the National Unity Party will be expected to push for a harder line in talks with Greek Cypriots in the south – a sign of the frustration felt by Turkish Cypriots at the slow progress of talks aimed at reuniting the island.

Last year, the Greek Cypriot President, Dimitris Christofias,promised a power-sharing arrangement as among the key issues to be resolved, along with security matters, property disputes and Turkey’s military presence in the island’s north. However, these are yet to happen, alongside the deal that was set to be sealed when he began talks with the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat. The package guaranteed the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cypriot – currently only recognized by Turkey – an automatic membership of the EU.

The leader of the nationalist UBP party, Dervis Eroglu, has said he will be pressing for international recognition for the breakaway state and wants the island to remain divided with his sights set on a two-state model. Mr. Talat will continue to lead the talks with Mr Christofias but the election results mean that he may no longer have the authority to make the necessary concessions for peace.

Mari Shibata