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The Prospects for Peace in Cyprus - The Impact of Elections in the North

Dr. Cihan Dizdaroğlu

Turkish Cypriots are preparing to elect their fifth president – the next community leader – to guide the peace negotiations. The presidential election in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), originally scheduled for 26 April, was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic and will soon be held on 11 October 2020. In this policy paper, Dr. Cihan Dizdaroğlu discusses the extent to which the election affects the prospects for a solution in Cyprus.

According to Article 99 of the Constitution, if no candidate obtains an absolute majority during the first round of voting, a run-off election will be held between the top two candidates on 18 October 2020. Alongside the presidential election, a concurrent vote will be held on a constitutional amendment regarding the number of judges in the Supreme Court.

Eleven male candidates, aged between 37 and 73, have already filed applications with the Supreme Election Council to run in the election. The main topics of their election campaigns are the fate of peace negotiations, the relationship between Turkey and the TRNC, the lifting of prolonged international embargos – specifically on the economy and sports – enhancing dialogue between Turkish Cypriots and the rest of the world, and the opening of the ghost town, Varosha (Maraş). Due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic on almost every aspect of life in Northern Cyprus, arduous domestic issues such as the economy, education, health and tourism, the disputes among coalition partners as well as tension between the president and government are also key issues on the candidates’ agendas.These circumstances are inescapable, especially considering the candidates comprise the incumbent president, prime minister, deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, opposition party leaders and a slew of others. Rather than detailing their visions for peace negotiations, candidates continue to criticize one another over domestic problems.However, the president, who is elected for a five-year term, has limited powers as executive authority lies with the Council of Ministers, which the prime minister leads. It is thus conceivable that focus has shifted towards individual election campaigns due to pressing issues in domestic politics.

There are currently no polls that reliably signal which candidates are in the lead, and the growing number of candidates complicates predictions. Discussions at the domestic level indicate the main competition will likely be between two left-wing and two right-wing candidates, who are listed atop the table below. However, there is still long way to go until the election and the current rankings may change suddenly. This is particularly relevant considering the failures of some candidates to adequately respond to the pandemic and its repercussions on the economy, education and health as well as the involvement of Serdar Denktaş, a senior politician and the son of founding President Rauf Raif Denktaş. Moreover,the possibility of lower turnout, considering the worsening impact of the pandemic on Northern Cyprus, might change all calculations.

It is worth mentioning that the goal of this paper is not to predict who will win the presidential election in the North but, rather, to discuss the extent to which the election affects the prospects for a solution in Cyprus. Accordingly, the paper begins by offering a brief outline of the current state of negotiations, followed by a discussion of the top candidates’ political orientations. The third section focuses on the possible impact of the election on peace negotiations, and the paper concludes with some important points going forward. Rather than relying on leadership changes on both sides, this paper argues for the need to adjust mentalities in favor of a more inclusive negotiation process to foster an atmosphere suitable for a possible solution in Cyprus.