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Election surprise in north

By Esra Aygin

As Turkish Cypriots prepare to go to the polls to elect a leader, with the debate getting ever more heated, one thing there is broad consensus on is the fact that it is impossible to predict who will come out top of the ballot box on Sunday.

Developments in an unprecedented election period in the northern part of Cyprus over the last months have unfolded in such a way that current Turkish Cypriot leader Derviş Eroğlu, current ‘parliament speaker’ Sibel Siber and veteran politician Mustafa Akıncı seem to have almost equal chances of coming out as the winner. And the star of independent candidate and former chief negotiator Kudret Özersay is shooting at such speeds that, he is already clearly one of the winners, no matter what the result is.

None of the candidates are expected to get more than 50% of the votes required to win the election in the first round this Sunday.

Next Sunday, April 26, the second round of the elections will be held, where the two candidates with the most votes will run against each other. And it seems impossible to predict who those two will be.

One of the biggest surprises of the election campaign has been the very clear decline of the current Turkish Cypriot leader, Eroğlu.

Despite the fact that the two major right-wing parties, National Unity Party UBP and Serdar Denktaş’ Democratic Party DP, officially declared support for Eroğlu, there is a significant number of people in both parties, who harshly oppose him mostly due to personal inter-party disputes.

The perception at the onset of the process was that hardliner Eroğlu would win the election in the first round, and his campaigners were toying with the slogan, “55% is the target”.

Although he is still topping the polls, it is clear that Eroğlu is in for a very narrow race that will definitely not end in the first round. It is even being questioned whether or not he would be one of the two candidates, who get enough votes to go to the second round.

“Let alone winning in the first round, getting around 30% and being able to go up to the second round will be perceived as a success for Eroğlu,” wrote Başaran Düzgün, the General Manager of the liberal, pro-solution Havadis newspaper.

The main destination of the right-wing voters despising Eroğlu is Özersay – the other big surprise of the election.

Özersay, a young professor of international relations and the leader of the civil society initiative “Toparlanıyoruz” (‘we are pulling ourselves together’) movement, entered the race back in October 2014 with no significant power, party or organisation backing him up. Commentators and polls gave Özersay no more than 5% of the ballot at the polls.

However, his completely unforeseeable and swift rise in a matter of just six months, has now made him a huge challenger for his competitors with the possibility of garnering up to 20% of the votes.

It would not be a surprise for those following the process closely, if Özersay wins enough votes to go on to the second round.

“Everyone thought he would remain at three-five percent but support for Özersay increased unbelievably. There is a huge flow towards Özersay mainly from UBP and DP,” said Düzgün.

The main message of Özersay’s “Toparlanıyoruz” movement has been a call for clean politics and a clean society. Özersay has consistently kept on the same line throughout his candidacy, criticising the corrupt and ineffective system in the north and promising reform and a clean-up, and an end to partisanship and nepotism.

On the negotiations front, he has highlighted his knowledge and experience stemming from the fact that he has been involved in the Cyprus talks for the last 12 years working with all three Turkish Cypriot leaders, late Rauf Denktash Mehmet Ali Talat, and Eroğlu.

While promising to work for a federal solution, he has argued that Turkish Cypriots should not pin all their hopes on a solution but should focus on correcting every aspect of their life regardless of the conditions.

Working with a team of volunteers, Özersay has been able to garner the support of circles across the political spectrum – people from left to right, from the extreme nationalist to the liberal pro-solution, from businessmen to Turkish settler groups, who are fed up with the system, the same politicians, undelivered promises, political parties and corruption.

The fact that the voting patterns of Turkish Cypriots this time around have almost nothing to do with party affiliations and allegiances makes it ever more impossible to predict the outcome of the vote.

A significant part of the traditional voter base of UBP and DP are going mainly for Özersay, but also Siber – the candidate of the Republican Turkish Party – United Forces CTP – BG, and Akıncı -independent candidate backed by the Socialist Democracy Party and United Cyprus Party BKP.

A significant part of the traditional supporters of CTP, on the other hand, have not been able to internalise Siber – who is not from the grassroots of CTP – are going for Akıncı.

So, in probably the most interesting election in Turkish Cypriot political history, it would be fair to say any result is possible on Sunday.

As Düzgün said, “These elections are taking place on very slippery ground. We are trying to read the process through traditional analysis methods, which don’t work in this case. Nothing is as it was before.”

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