In a surprise victory, the Turkish Cypriot conservative Ersin Tatar has ousted his left-wing rival Mustafa Akinci in the tightly contested presidential election.
The runoff presidential elections on Sunday saw Tatar gain 51.74 percent of the vote compared to 48.26 percent for Akinci.
Akinci relied too heavily on distancing himself from the main backers of the Turkish Cypriots, that is to say Turkey, says Professor Hasan Unal from Istanbul’s Maltepe University speaking to TRT World.
While some voters have been unhappy with some of Ankara’s past policies on the island, in the presidential elections they put that aside, separating party-political issues and what is in their national interest, said Unal.
Unal added that that voters ultimately drew a line in the sand over the issue making it clear that solidarity with Turkey is an essential ingredient for the continuation of the Turkish Cypriot Republic.
“People from all walks of life were increasingly angry with negotiations over a federal model,” said Unal, who also teaches International Relations in Turkish Cyprus.
Akinci had advocated for continued negotiations towards a federal model with the Greek Cypriots contrasting himself as a continuity candidate, however, that message has increasingly lost its resonance amongst voters.
The often touted federal model would see the two divided halves of the island unite but power would be devolved between the Turkish and the Greek Cypriots.
“I have been observing a growing anger towards the federal model and people are questioning why they are negotiating with the Greeks when it has been the Greek side that has consistently rejected all the proposals put before the two communities,” added Unal.
The presidential elections could also mark a turning point for the future between the Turkish Republic of Cyprus and the Greek Cypriot administration in the south.
While Turkish Cyprus is a parliamentary system and day to day power rests with the parliament and the prime minister, the future of the island and negotiations on the international stage are traditionally represented by the president.
The Greek side may now regret rejecting past proposals, says Unal.
In 2004, what many consider was the best chance the island had for reunification, the Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected the Annan Peace Proposal, which would have seen the island reunited. Peace efforts since then have never got close to that effort of the early 2000s.
In 2017, the guarantor countries which protect Cyprus’ security – Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom – met at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana alongside their Greek and Turkish Cypriot counterparts.
Hopes for a solution were dashed with the Greek Cypriot administration focused on discussing security and the final status of Turkish forces on the island.
Unal has even proposed to the Turkish Cypriot administration that as part of the new efforts to establish the independence of the country that is currently named the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus it should instead call itself simply the Turkish Republic of Cyprus, an important distinction that would establish it on an equal footing with its southern neighbor.
That aside, Tatar’s victory also heralds a victory for mainland Turkey, which is in the process of consolidating its presence in the eastern Mediterranean.
A two state solution has also been called a “geopolitical imperative” by an influential retired Turkish Admiral, Cem Gurdeniz who is also the brains behind Turkey’s naval strategy known as the Blue Homeland doctrine.
In an article following the elections he urged Turkish businessmen and entrepreneurs to invest in the island to ensure increasing prosperity, calling the Tatar victory “an extremely important achievement for our struggle on the Blue Homeland front and our 21st century maritime geopolitics.”
Going forward in practical terms Tatar will have a couple of options at his disposal.
He could either say that negotiations are over, after synchronising the policy with Ankara or he could give a deadline to the Greek Cypriots and see whether they want to continue or not, says Unal.
The new position under Tatar’s presidency will, over time, lean towards fully fledged independence and working towards a two-state solution.
In the eastern Mediterranean, where Turkey has been assertive in protecting what it sees as its maritime waters, Tatar’s presidency will bolster that policy ensuring that gains made will be consolidated.
“Tatar’s election supports Turkey in the region,” says Unal adding that “Akinci on the other hand may have got in Turkey’s way.”