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News Analysis: Turkish Cypriot elections may stamp prospects for Cyprus settlement

Xinhua, April 18, 2015 Adjust font size:

About 177,000 voters will go to the polls on Sunday in the Turkish occupied part of Cyprus in an election that may have an impact on efforts to reach a settlement to the eastern Mediterranean island's political problem -- one of the longest standing international issues before the United Nations.

They will go to the polls to elect a new leader for the Turkish Cypriot community who will continue negotiations with the leader of the Greek Cypriot community for a Cyprus solution.

Political and electoral pundits say that the elections pit together two diametrically opposing schools of thinking on the kind of a solution for the divided island.

Cyprus was split into Greek and Turkish Cypriot parts when Turkey occupied its northern part in 1974, reacting to a short-lived coup by Greek army officers.

On the one side, incumbent Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu, an octogenarian politician, is widely regarded as a hardliner who would be happy to have Cyprus divided in two entirely separate states or at the very best united in a confederation of two loosely linked sovereign states.

His two main opponents are Moustafa Akinci, who is supported by small center and right wing parties and factions and Sibel Siber, a wealthy businesswoman who represents left-wing Republican Turkish Party.

They both support a solution reunifying the island under a federal umbrella that would officially turn their secluded enclave into European Union territory, along with the rest of the island.

Greek Cypriots, the United Nations and several countries actively involved in the 40-year long negotiations would be glad to see one of the two moderate politicians in the helm of the Turkish Cypriot community.

Pundits say that a shift among voters in recent weeks may lead to just that.

Polls published up to an April 4 time limit showed Eroglu in the lead with close to 32 percent of polled voters supporting him, and Akinci and Siber close behind.

But unofficial polls made known this week showed that the voters may spring a surprise. One of the polls gave Akinci 31 percent and Eropglu 29 percent, with Siber in third place with 27 percent.

Niyazi Kizilyurek, a Turkish Cypriot professor of Political Science at the state University of Cyprus, said that recently there has been a movement of voters away from Eroglu, who was originally expected to emerge as an outright first round winner.

"A one-round election expected six to seven months ago is out of the question. There will definitely be a run-off election on April 26", said Spyros Athanasiades, and expert on Turkish and Turkish Cypriot affairs.

Kizilyurek believes that many voters are turning away from Eroglu and are joining forces with independent right-wing candidate, Kudret Ozersay, a former negotiator with the Greek Cypriots and a proponent of a federal solution.

"Tensions between Turkish Cypriots and Turkey are translated into a drain of support from the Eroglu camp. They either join Ozersay's or Akinci's camp. I would not be surprised if Eroglu was left out of the race entirely after Sunday's vote", said Kizilyurek.

Turkey can influence the outcome of the vote by applying pressure on the 75,000 mainland voters as it can order them out of Greek Cypriot properties and houses allocated to them and order them back to their shacks in Turkey.

But there is no evidence that the Turkish government has intervened actively in the electoral process, said Athanasiades.

"This is because it is sure that it will have the last word no matter who will be elected. But it will be happy to have Eroglu re-elected as he is the man to always say 'yes'. On the other hand, Akinci is not the man who will always go along Ankara's directives," Athanasiades added.

A United Nations emissary is expected to announce a resumption of the Cyprus negotiations once the Turkish Cypriot elections are over.

The negotiations were suspended after Turkey started prospecting for natural gas in Cyprus's exclusive economic zone in October, 2014.

But it pulled a seismic ship out of Cypriot territory and did not renew a notice to sailors which expired on April 6. Endit