The leader of Northern Cyprus Mustafa Akinci leaves favorite Sunday to win a new term at the head of this self-proclaimed Republic. He faces the protégé of Ankara Ersin Tatar, during a second round in the shadow of tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.
Outgoing “President” of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Turkey, Mr. Akinci came in second in the first round with almost 30% of the vote, behind Mr. Tatar (over 32% ). But he should, except surprise, win against the outgoing “Prime Minister” thanks to the support of Tufan Erhurman, who came third last Sunday.
The 738 polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (7 a.m. in Switzerland) and will close at 6 p.m. Some 199,000 people are called to vote out of more than 300,000 inhabitants in the TRNC.
The election comes in a context of strong tensions around the exploitation of hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean between Ankara and Athens, main ally of the Republic of Cyprus – only recognized by the international community and member of the European Union since 2004 – which exercises its authority over the southern two-thirds of the divided island.
Loosen ties with Ankara
Having long worked for reconciliation with the Greek Cypriots, Mr. Akinci maintains stormy relations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This 72-year-old social democrat, who defends the reunification of Cyprus in the form of a federal state, has never hidden his intention to loosen ties with Ankara. Mr. Tatar, a 60-year-old nationalist, defends a two-state solution.
Seeing Cyprus as a major piece in its strategy to defend its interests in the eastern Mediterranean, Ankara is closely following the ballot in the northern third of the island and has stepped up maneuvers to boost Mr Tatar’s campaign.
“The Turkish Cypriots are not happy to be seen as dependent on another and to be constantly berated and despised,” said Umut Bozkurt, political scientist at the University of the Eastern Mediterranean in Northern Cyprus. According to the researcher, Ankara’s alleged interference turned the ballot into a referendum on their “dignity” for many Turkish-Cypriots.
But to display an independent line vis-à-vis Ankara is not easy as the TRNC has been under the economic control of Turkey since its creation in 1983. Cyprus obtained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1960, but the Turkish troops invaded the northern third of the island in 1974 in reaction to a coup aimed at reuniting the island with Greece.
When he came to power in 2015, Akinci rekindled the hope that the peace talks would be successful by advocating a federal state, but the last official negotiations failed in 2017.