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Turkish Cypriot leader expected to win against Erdoğan-backed rival in presidential run-off

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Mustafa Akıncı, president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC), is expected to win out over Prime Minister Ersin Tatar, who is supported by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), in the second round of the presidential election, reports from local media indicate.

Founded after the Turkish army invaded the northern part of the island in 1974, the KKTC is a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey, while the Greek Cypriot state, established in 1960, enjoys international recognition as the Republic of Cyprus.

Right-wing candidate Tatar garnered 32.2 percent of the vote, with leftist Akıncı winning 29.8 percent and center-left Tufan Erhürman receiving 21.7 percent in a field of 11 candidates, in the first round of the election held on Sunday.

With no candidate winning a majority of 50 percent, a presidential run-off is set to take place on October 18 between the top two candidates — one aiming to resume peace talks with Cyprus’ internationally recognized Greek government and the other seeking to develop closer relations with Turkey.

According to local media, incumbent Akıncı is expected to get the upper hand in the second round of the presidential election, with supporters of Republican Turkish Party (CTP) leader Erhürman choosing Akıncı over Tatar.

The party announced late on Tuesday that they would back Akıncı in the second round, arguing that they have always pursued a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem on a federal basis.

While Akıncı is a strong supporter of a federal accord with the Greek Cypriots, Tatar promotes, as an alternative to the federal model, fully aligning Turkish Cypriot polices with those of Ankara, such as pursuing a possible two-state deal.

Another argument in favor of Akıncı is that it is not possible for Tatar to garner 50 percent of the vote even in a scenario where he is supported by all the right-wing parties in the upcoming presidential run-off.

Sunday’s presidential election reportedly saw the lowest turnout in the history of the KKTC, with 58.2 percent of the electorate turning out to vote, around 7 percent lower than the last poll five years ago, partly due to a decline in the number of right-wing voters, some of whom decided to abstain from casting ballots because of Ankara’s alleged meddling in the election.

Journalist Sami Özuslu, president of the Turkish Cypriot Journalists Association (KTGB), told Metin Kaan Kurtuluş from the T24 news website on Tuesday that some of the previously non-voters are expected to cast their votes in favor of Akıncı in Sunday’s presidential run-off.

“They [AKP officials] used every method you can think of in order [for Tatar] to gain more votes in the first round. And that is the main reason behind people’s [negative] reactions [towards Tatar]. This is open and obvious [election] interference [by Ankara],” T24 quoted Özuslu as saying.

One of the incidents that drew criticism was the recent partial reopening of the beachfront of Varosha, a deserted suburb of Famagusta in the east of the divided Mediterranean island, with the support of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The move, which came days before the presidential election, was characterized in a written statement by Nicos Anastasiades, president of the Republic of Cyprus in the southern part of the island, as “an illegal and a clear violation of international law.”

Alongside President Erdoğan in Ankara, Prime Minister Tatar unveiled the reopening of Varosha (Maraş), which has been abandoned since its Greek Cypriot inhabitants fled as Turkish troops took control at the end of a war between Greeks and Turks over the island, on August 13, 1974.

Once a popular tourist resort, Varosha turned into a literal ghost town after being walled off by the Turkish army.

Last week coalition partner the People’s Party (HP) withdrew from the government over the Varosha announcement, with party leader Yenal Senin claiming that Tatar failed to inform his party and state institutions of the partial reopening.

President Akıncı also claimed that he was not previously informed about the government’s decision regarding the beach at Varosha, saying the announcement delivered from the Turkish capital was a “disgrace” to their democracy and “interference” in their elections.

The Turkish Cypriot leader also claimed during a live broadcast last week that people working for Turkish President Erdoğan threatened him in an attempt to get him to abandon his candidacy in Sunday’s presidential election.

“They told me, ‘It would be better for you, your family and your loved ones if you weren’t a candidate’,” Akıncı said on a live broadcast on TV 2020, a local network.

Tensions escalated between Erdoğan and Akıncı in October 2019, when the Turkish Cypriot president spoke out against Turkey’s military incursion into predominantly Kurdish northern Syria.

Erdoğan responded to Akıncı’s criticism by saying he should “know his place.”

“He is in office thanks to the Republic of Turkey,” Erdoğan said at the time.

“There is only one authority that decides how to get to this office: the Turkish Cypriot people,” Akıncı said in response.

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