Residents of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), self-proclaimed and recognized by Turkey alone, were called to vote on Sunday to elect their leader.
According to the first estimates of the Electoral Council, the candidate supported by Turkey, Ersin Tatar , came in first with 32.46% of the vote, followed by the outgoing “president” Mustafa Akinci , at odds with the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with 29.73%. A second round should therefore oppose them next Sunday.
The TRNC (about 300,000 inhabitants) is established on the northern third of the island, occupied since 1974 by Turkey in reaction to a coup d’état to reattach Cyprus to Greece. Turkey, whose coastline is some 80 km from those of Cyprus, sees the island as a major part of its strategy to extend its maritime borders.
The turnout at the end of the afternoon amounted to 54.72% of the nearly 199,000 registered voters, according to the Electoral Council. The first estimates are based on the counting of just over 9,000 ballots.
Partition against reunification
Mustafa Akinci is a 72-year-old Social Democrat who advocates reunifying the island as a federal state and loosening ties with Ankara.
Ersin Tatar, current prime minister, won the poll. Openly supported by Ankara, he campaigned for the end of the reunification negotiations: ” The TRNC and its people form a state […] We deserve to live on the basis of equal sovereignty “, declared Sunday Ersin Tatar, applauded by his supporters in front of the polling station, suggesting their support for a final partition of the country between two sovereign states. During the last round of negotiations for the reunification of the island, discussions stumbled over the withdrawal of some 30,000 Turkish soldiers present in the occupied northern third.
In third position, Tufan Erhurman with around 22% of the vote, advocates a solution similar to that of the outgoing “president” for Cyprus, which places, on paper, Mustafa Akinci in a better position than his main opponent to win in the second tower.
“ This election is crucial for our destiny ”, declared the latter after having voted, expressing concern for the health of Turkish Cypriots due to the pandemic but also for the “health of politics” in TRNC. He notably denounced “ Turkey’s intervention ” in the election. Ankara firmly relies on the support of the Republic of northern Cyprus to support it in its conquest of the recently discovered gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean.
The poll takes place after the controversial reopening Thursday of Varosha (east), a ghost town cordoned off by the Turkish army and emblematic of the division of the island. The announcement of this partial reopening of the city abandoned since the Turkish invasion had been made by Ersin Tatar, alongside Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara. The decision was criticized by Mustafa Akinci, the Republic of Cyprus, the European Union and the UN which monitors the buffer zone between the two parts of the island.
The election in TRNC, which depends economically on Turkey, also took place in a context of economic crisis, amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic. More than 800 cases have been officially recorded there so far, including 4 deaths.