While the Republic of Cyprus prepares itself for the General Election on Sunday 22 May, the Turkish Cypriots (TCs) have lost their coalition administration once again. The right-wing United Cyprus Party (UBP) walked out of the coalition with the centre-left Republican Turkish Party (CTP), saying that the logical coalition is between the (centre-right) Democrat Party (DP) and them. CTP’s Omer Kalyoncu has handed his resignation in to the TC ‘President’, Mustafa Akinci, and UBP’s Huseyin Ozgurgun has already taken over. Several sources are calling for early elections but it seems clear that the beneficiary would be bound to be the new party, HP (The People’s Party), headed by Kudret Ozersay, former negotiator.
Since the Turkish invasion in Cyprus in 1974 and the de facto partition of the island in two national territories, 37 different ‘governments’ have administered the so called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) – a state only recognized by Turkey – indicative of an unstable regime. The average duration of these governing coalitions is 12 months and 11 different ‘Prime ministers’ have served in office.
The reason behind the recent turbulence and the collapse of the government coalition is the changing relation between the TCs and Turkey. At the heart of this debate is the squabble about the economic protocol for 2016-2018. The economic protocol resembles a memorandum between Turkey and the TCs based on which financial help from Turkey is given to the ‘TRNC’. Some (right-wing) political forces argue that this protocol brings northern Cyprus into line with the EU. Many TCs though and especially leftist political parties fear both about the neoliberal character of the measures provided in the protocol and ultimately about the mere survival of TCs worrying that Turkey’s authoritarian rule is imposed in northern Cyprus.
The centre-left CTP, although holding until recently the ‘premiership’ and under pressure from their leftist internal component, questioned aspects of the protocol on issues such as the privatisation of water supply, economic strategy, the autonomy of local administration, etc. The right-wing UBP on the other hand withdrew their support for the coalition protesting against the CTP for jeopardizing their good and life-giving relationship with the ‘mother-land’.
Beyond the superficial emphasis on party competition and the different strategies adopted by political actors there are obviously deeper issues at stake which permeate the relationship between TCs and Turkey, as many analyses suggest. One such issue is the way Turkey is treating the ‘TRNC’ in recent years, especially since T. Erdogan’s rise to power. Turkey seems determined to terminate the peculiar welfare state of the TCs which was built in the aftermath of the 1974 invasion and upon which a system of extensive political clientelism has developed. In this way, Turkey aims to facilitate the infiltration of the Turkish capital in the TC community as a means to control it.
A second and related issue is that Turkey does not appear to trust leftist forces to become the vehicle of transforming the TC society given their strong resistance to Turkey’s programme. Upon this second premise rests the third issue which refers to the renewed call for uniting the right in a single party. This of course entails a process of transformation for the right in order to keep pace with the new realities in the TC community, large parts of which demand autonomy from Turkey and claim their right to decide for themselves. Their urge to find solutions is also prompted by the sudden rise of Ozersay’s HP which polled 21% in the recent ‘presidential’ elections, whereas a recent poll indicates that the HP would score almost 40% if elections took place today.
The change in government however could have negative implications for the ongoing negotiations for finding a solution to the Cyprus problem. Both parties that form the new government are well-known for their hard-line position on the subject and it is anticipated that they will cause problems for the TC leader and negotiator Mustafa Akinci. One such example is the intention of these parties to grant citizenship to a number of Turkish settlers (around 25,000) amidst the ongoing negotiations, something that the former centre-left CTP denied.