Residents of the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Turkey, voted on Sunday to elect their president. The results promise to be tighter than expected, according to the first results of the Electoral Council.
Mustafa Akinci, outgoing “president”, at odds with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, came second in the first round with almost 30% of the vote, behind nationalist Ersin Tatar (32%), outgoing “Prime Minister”. The support of the candidate who came third on October 11 was to bring an easy victory for Mr. Akinci.
But, to everyone’s surprise, the results of the counting of 413 out of 738 offices showed that the two adversaries were neck and neck: Mr. Akinci with about 49.03% of the vote and Mr. Tatar 50.97%.
Turnout was up three points an hour before the close of business. The results should be published in the evening, but a request for a recount of the votes cannot be ruled out.
Tensions in the Mediterranean
The election is taking place in a context of strong tensions around the exploitation of hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean between Ankara and Athens, the main ally of the Republic of Cyprus – a member of the European Union since 2004 – which exercises its authority over the southern two thirds of the island.
After drilling off North Cyprus, the return this week of a Turkish exploration vessel to waters claimed by Greece has stirred up discord and led to condemnation by EU leaders of “provocations” from Turkey.
Loosen ties with Ankara
72-year-old social democrat, Mr. Akinci defends the reunification of Cyprus in the form of a federal state. He has never hidden his intention to loosen ties with Ankara. Mr. Tatar, 60, defends a two-state solution and on Sunday stressed the importance of maintaining good relations with Turkey.
Considering the TRNC as a major piece in its strategy to defend its interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, Ankara is closely monitoring the election and has stepped up its nudges to Mr. Tatar.
The inauguration with great fanfare of an underwater aqueduct between Northern Cyprus and Turkey and the partial reopening of a famous former seaside resort, abandoned and cordoned off by the Turkish army after the partition of the island, have sparked accusations of interference by Turkey and angered many Turkish-Cypriots, especially Mr. Akinci.
“The Turkish Cypriots are not happy to be seen as dependent on another,” said Umut Bozkurt, a political scientist at the University of the Eastern Mediterranean, in Northern Cyprus. According to her, Ankara’s interventions turned the ballot into a referendum on their “dignity” for many Turkish Cypriots.
But displaying an independent position from Ankara is difficult as the TRNC has been under Turkish economic control since its creation in 1983. The economic crisis, amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic, has not helped.