Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leaves as a favorite this Sunday before Ankara’s candidate, Ersin Tatar, to be re-elected as head of the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (RTCN), in a second round amid tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Tatar, a right-wing nationalist, won 32.35% of the vote in the first round last Sunday, while Akinci won almost 30%. However, the outgoing president should prevail over the “prime minister” thanks to the support of Tufan Erhurman, the third most voted candidate last Sunday.
All 738 polling stations opened at 08:00 (05:00 GMT) and will close at 18:00 (15:00 GMT). 199,000 of the more than 300,000 inhabitants of the RTCN are entitled to vote.
The election takes place in a context of tensions in the eastern Mediterranean over the exploitation of hydrocarbons between Turkey and Greece, the main ally of the Republic of Cyprus, which exercises its authority in two thirds of the southern part of the island and belongs to the European Union.
The RTCN covers the northern third of the island, occupied since 1974 by Turkey in reaction to a coup d’état that sought to annex Cyprus to Greece.
Turkey, whose coastline is about 80 km from Cyprus, sees the island as a key element in its strategy to extend its maritime borders.
The return this week of a Turkish oil exploration ship in waters claimed by Greece sparked condemnation on Friday by EU leaders, accusing Ankara of “provocations and threatening sanctions.
Akinci is a 72-year-old Social Democrat in favor of reunifying the island and reducing ties with Ankara, which has earned him hostility from Erdogan.
Turkey openly supports the 60-year-old Tatar, who rests with much of the executive powers and who is in favor of a two-state solution.
– “Only solution” –
“The only good solution is the solution with a federal state,” says Said Kenan as he leaves a voting center. Highlighting the island’s “strategic” geographic location, this 76-year-old cardiologist explains that Cyprus could get ahead thanks to hydrocarbons.
Ankara multiplied the maneuvers to try to boost the candidacy of Tatar, such as the ceremony to inaugurate an underwater aqueduct between North Cyprus and Turkey, or the partial reopening of a reputed old seaside resort, abandoned since the Turkish army landed on the island.
This has led to accusations of interference by Turkey in the election and irritated many Turkish Cypriots, starting with Akinci.
“Turkish Cypriots are not content to be considered dependent on another and to be constantly scolded and belittled,” estimates Umut Bozkurt, a political scientist at the University of the Eastern Mediterranean in Northern Cyprus.
– “Dignity” –
According to the researcher, the alleged interference by Turkey has transformed the election into a referendum on their “dignity” for many Turkish Cypriots.
“The results of the first round show that a considerable part of the voters want to free themselves from the influence of Turkey and want a reunification,” according to Bozkurt.
But showing an independent line towards Ankara is not easy, due to Turkey’s strong economic control over the RTCN since its inception in 1983.
The vote takes place precisely in a context of financial crisis amplified by covid-19. It was Turkey that financed the construction of a hospital with a hundred beds for the RTCN to face the pandemic.
str-Mdz / March