North Cyprus: ‘Moderate leftist’ wins presidential election on peace ticket

Workers’ common front, north and south, can find solution to island’s division

Leaders of divided Cyprus are taking part in new ‘peace talks’ that began on 15 May, when Nicos Anastasiades, president of Greek Cyprus, met Mustafa Akinci, newly elected ‘moderate leftist’ president of North Cyprus. Both Akinci and Anastasiades are reported to propose that the island, partitioned in 1974, should be united as a two-state ‘federation’.

Athina Kariati, looks at circumstances surrounding Akinci’s election and prospects for a real peace process.

“Peace cannot be prevented in Cyprus”, under this slogan and to the accompaniment of a traditional Cypriot Dilirga song – a symbol of bicommunal brotherhood – people outside the electoral centre received news, on 26 April, of the election victory of Mustafa Akinci.

Winning 60.5% support – the highest percentage for a presidential election since 2003, and one of the highest for a president on either sides of divided Cyprus – Mustafa Akinci is now the new president of North Cyprus.

Although Akinci ran as an independent candidate he comes from the leftist TKP (Toplumcu Kurtuluş Partisi – Communal Liberation Party), the predecessor of social democratic TDP (Toplumcu Demokrasi Partisi – Communal Democracy Party). During his 14 years term as mayor in north Nicosia (1976 to 1990), he became a well-known figure for peace and bi-communal collaboration.

In the first round, Akinci was supported by TDP, as well as by the leftist BKP party (Birleşik Kıbrıs Partisi – United Cyprus Party), the Baraka cultural centre and a new leftist organisation, Bagimsiz Yolu (Independent Road). Due to the erosion of support for the traditional parties and splits in their ranks, Akinci was able to win the first round. The votes for the TDP and BKP together (parties that usually win seats in the parliament) were not enough to give them victory.

Abstention a big ’winner’

The disillusionment of Turkish Cypriots towards the political parties was obvious in the elections, as it was during the last parliamentary and municipality elections (when abstention went from 25% to 30%). The abstention in the first round reached its highest ever figure, at 38%, which only fell to 35% in the second round. However the polarization around the two candidates from the first to second week of elections shows a reawakening of political debate in the north.

The traditional right parties found their votes split. The two right wing candidates, Eroglu and Ozersay, had to share a fall in their votes. Eroglu represents the traditional, nationalist right wing, which is connected to Turkey. A younger generation, led by Ozersay, is more neo-liberal and prefer to be connect to international capital rather than stay trapped by Turkish capitalism.

The CTP-BG (Cumhuriyetçi Türk Partisi – Republican Turkish Party), the traditional leftist party now in government, stood Sibel Siber as its presidential candidate. Instead of standing a party member with more left credentials, Siber represented the “united forces” (BG) and is a founding member of the centre right wing DP. Not only did he fail to win support from centre right voters, Siber’s candidature did not help the CTP-BG to overcome problems they have had since last year’s local elections. It caused a split in the base of the party and amongst CTP supporters, including those on the left representing an older generation. Many voted for Akinci in the first round.

Second round as ’referendum’

In the second round, Eroglu tried to transform the elections into a referendum for or against the existence of the Northern statelet (TRNC), the continuing presence of the Turkish army on the island and its role as ‘guarantor’ of the rights of Turkey. Eroglu focused on Turkish people living in Cyprus, threatening that if they voted for Akinci they would be deported from the island. This campaign of terror did not have the result he expected. Out of the three districts that are more populated by people who have come from Turkey since 1974, only one, the Karpas district, was influenced by the threats, and very marginally since the majority for Eroglu was very small. Not even bribery, which reportedly Eroglu’s staff used, had any significant influence on the election result.

On the contrary, the terror campaign aimed at Akinci failed. He won support from CTP members at a special conference of the party and from the most militant primary, secondary and university teachers’ unions. They publicly called for a vote for Akinci, as did women’s organisations, human rights NGOs and even the NGO led by Ozersay, ‘Toparlaniyoruz’ (‘we get together’). Supporters of Ozersay failed in their bid to get the NGO to call for people to vote ‘at will’ and instead the NGO made a public call to support Akinci. It was the first time that the left, unions and ‘civil society’ organisations united to support one candidate.

Old nationalist regime gone

Eroglu lost the elections with 39.5%. He was the last candidate of the generation that represented the old nationalist Turkish Cypriot ruling class which affiliated with the interests of Turkish capital and the Turkish army. Eroglu declared that he will not run for elections any more. His rival on the right, Ozersay, will try to fill the void.

Ozersay, a neo-liberal, ‘cosmopolitan’ right winger, known as a technocratic negotiator in negotiations over the future of Cyprus, won 21% in the first round – a percentage that is quite high given that he was running for the first time. So even if Turkish Cypriots rejected the old right wing regime candidate, the ruling elite has found a more cosmopolitan, neoliberalist representative, younger and new to the political arena, on who to build support.

Enthusiasm and hope in both communities

Nevertheless the Akinci’s victory was met with enthusiasm and hope in both communities that a settlement to the national question can be found. People from both communities celebrated the election results in Inonu square, on 26 April. For the first time during the speech of a new president in the north the word “motherland” was not used. On the contrary, Akinci stressed his goal of achieving independence for the Turkish Cypriot community, a relationship of ‘brotherhood’ with Turkey – not a ‘mother-child’ relationship anymore – and the will to fight for a federation in Cyprus.

Akinci also took a lot of time to mention a taboo issue – the suffering of Greek Cypriots during the Turkish invasion in 1974. When a CTP MP, Dogus Derya, mentioned the same issue in parliament all the forces of the regime were arrayed against her. Not only did Akinci mention 1974, he countered any future attack from nationalists by saying that “we will work so that such a suffering will not happen again”.

Akinci spent time addressing Turkish people living in Cyprus, in reply to, as he called it, “stale propaganda” about sending them back to Turkey. He stressed that people who work in northern Cyprus should be part of the solution.

Finally, Akinci made an appeal to the Greek Cypriot President Anastasiades, saying that it was up to both of them to solve the national question on the island.

“I will do what I have promised”

On the first day of his presidency, Akinci had a public confrontation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on a live phone discussion that was broadcast on TV. Akinci said the north Cyprus and Turkey relationship is one of ‘brotherhood’ and not of a ‘mother to child’ kind. Akinci gave more hope to Cypriots, from both sides, that he will do what he promised.

However the national question, and the reality of the dependence of the north on Turkey, will not be solved just with declarations.

The unsolved national question stems from the conflicting interests of the Greek Cypriot, Turkish Cypriot and Greek and Turkish ruling classes. The nationalist forces are regrouping on both sides, ready to intervene in case any new attempted settlement does not serve the interests of the elites. The economy has to be taken into consideration. Erdogan threatens to stop the funding of the economy of the north if the conflict against his government continues. More austerity in the south is also on the cards. In these circumstances, workers can become vulnerable to chauvinistic policies, if there is no clear left alternative.

Greek Cypriot President, Anastasiades, although he seems to be in favor of a solution, represents the neoliberal, reactionary forces, local and international, and is personally associated with scandals. The neoliberal part of the Greek Cypriot ruling glass is not entering negotiations with good will. Actually they are aiming a solution that will make possible for them to take control of the whole of Cyprus through their economic power.

The only class that will has nothing to lose but to benefit from a settlement of the national question is the working masses, which made the difference in the north’s elections.

Now is the time for a formation of a common front of workers, north and south, a common front of the left, the unions and ‘civil society’ – local working class communities – that will create the conditions for a solution to the national question. In order for this movement to succeed, it needs a socialist programme, to be able to answer the nationalists and to fight unconditionally against nationalism, austerity and neo-liberalism, on both sides, and to fight for full democratic rights, for all.

A socialist programme would plan the economy democratically on both sides of the island, gaining genuine independence from both Turkey and the Troika. That will include the non-payment of the debt to either of them, and to rationally plan the economy by taking the banks and the major industries under the control and management of the working people in Cyprus, so that they work in the interests of the working people in Cyprus and not the profits of the big capitalists. This movement has to unite with the movements in Greece and Turkey, to gain the support and solidarity but also build a sustainable, peaceful united, federal socialist Cyprus in a united socialist Europe and whole area, on a voluntary basis.

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