[OPINION] Erdoğan scores a win in Turkish Cypriot presidential election

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Cevheri Güven

Turkish-backed Prime Minister Ersin Tatar has won out over internationally supported President Mustafa Akıncı in the presidential election in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC), a breakaway state founded after a Turkish intervention on the island in 1974 and recognized only by Turkey.

Due to the extraordinary meddling of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the Turkish Cypriot election, the real winner of the polls was Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Leftist Akıncı was the favorite in the election even if he garnered only 29.8 percent of the vote in the first round behind Tatar’s 32.2 percent. Tufan Erhürman, who came third with 21.7 percent, endorsed Akıncı in the second round.

Right-wing nationalist Tatar took the lead over incumbent Akıncı in the runoff by securing 51.74 percent of the vote, ahead of his rival, who garnered 48.26 percent.

For many living in the isolated nation, Erdoğan played a big role in Akıncı’s defeat, intervening in the election in multiple ways. As a result the election was considered a race between the Turkish president and the Turkish Cypriot president, a first in the history of the divided island.

A higher turnout of 67 percent in the second round, with 15,000 more voters than in the first round, seems to have played the biggest role in Tatar’s victory, which came with extraordinary support from Erdoğan’s Turkey.

Turkish Embassy functioned as election headquarters for Tatar

The Turkish Embassy in Lefkoşa (Nicosia) was reportedly used like an election headquarters during the election campaigns. A special group of 20 Turkish officials was created to carry out election-related events, such as visits to villages to promote Tatar. Local reports said the Turkish team focused in particular on settlements where Turkish immigrants live, including Mağusa, İskele and Karpaz. People were primarily in favor of Tatar in these cities, where he received around 70 percent of the vote.

Further, members of the Turkish parliament from the AKP and its ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) frequently staged election rallies.

Voters who recently immigrated from Turkey played role in election

Some 30,000 people have reportedly been sent by Turkey to the KKTC since 2015 and have been granted citizenship. According to critics, this new population also had a crucial impact on the election results in the small country since they were able to vote.  

Moreover, hundreds of other people were able to vote in the election even if their citizenship had been previously revoked by court decision. The rulings were overturned just two days before the election, allowing these disputed citizens to cast vote.

Considering the fact that Tatar’s lead over Akıncı was just around 5,000, the effect of the newly added Turkish population is clear.

Reopening of abandoned city of Varosha

The reopening of the coastal part of the abandoned city of Varosha (Maraş) was another election-related act that came just days before the election. The decision was announced after talks between Erdoğan and Tatar and created tension on the island since nobody, including President Akıncı, was informed beforehand.

In reaction, coalition partner the People’s Party (HP) announced its withdrawal from Tatar’s government, claiming that Tatar was using the Varosha plan as an election strategy and had failed to inform state institutions of the decision.

The town had been abandoned since its Greek Cypriot inhabitants fled when Turkish troops took control at the end of a war between Greeks and Turks over the island, on August 13, 1974.

Water pipeline opened for the second time before election

Again prior to the election, a pipeline carrying water to the KKTC from Turkey was also used as an opportunity to create a positive image of Erdoğan and his ally Tatar in the eyes of the Turkish Cypriots. A malfunction in the pipeline that occurred in December 2019 had not been repaired until recently. The repair was quickly completed prior to the election, and an inauguration ceremony was held for the reopening of the pipeline.

COVID-19

Another of Turkey’s election-motivated acts was the recent construction of a hospital for the care of COVID-19 patients. The hospital was built in two months and opened before the election, moving public opinion in favor of Tatar and eliminating resentment over Turkey’s failure to provide aid to the KKTC during the first wave of the pandemic. Akıncı had to ask for help from the European Union, which sent medical supplies valued at 5 million euros.

Erdoğan accuses Akıncı of treason

Hasan Kahveci, a Cypriot journalist, told the Ahval news website that President Akıncı could not get fair coverage in the Cypriot media before the election, while Turkey’s pro-Erdoğan media outlets, which were able to broadcast on the island, systematically accused him of betraying the Turkish Cypriot state.

Akıncı had received many death threats following the smear campaign against him. He prepared a dossier of the threats and summoned the Turkish Embassy to his office to present it; however, the Turkish ambassador to the KKTC did not respond to Akıncı’s call.

Kahveci interpreted the election results as a “coup by Erdoğan” and characterized the Turkish Cypriot state as “Turkey’s backyard.”

While the KKTC is recognized only by Turkey, the Greek Cypriot state enjoys international recognition as the Republic of Cyprus, established in 1960. As a result, northern Cyprus has faced a longstanding international embargo on commerce, transportation and culture.

Akıncı was in favor of resolving all isolation-related problems through a federative solution, while Tatar favors a two-state solution.

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