The inhabitants of the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Turkey, elect their leader on Sunday, a second round in the shadow of tensions in the eastern Mediterranean for which the outgoing “president”, Mustafa Akinci, favorite part against the protege of Ankara, Ersin Tatar.
Mr. Akinci, at odds with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, came second in the first round with nearly 30% of the vote, behind nationalist Ersin Tatar (32%). But he should, except surprise, win against the outgoing “Prime Minister” thanks to the support of the candidate who came third last Sunday.
Some 199,000 people are called to vote out of more than 300,000 inhabitants. At 1 p.m. local time, the turnout was 30.17%.
The election comes against a backdrop of strong tensions around the exploitation of hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean between Ankara and Athens, the main ally of the Republic of Cyprus – a member of the European Union since 2004 – which exercises its authority over the two southern third of the island.
After drilling off North Cyprus, the return this week of a Turkish exploration vessel to waters claimed by Greece has stirred up discord and led to condemnation by EU leaders of the “provocations” from Turkey.
A 72-year-old Social Democrat, Akinci defends the reunification of Cyprus in the form of a federal state and has never hidden his intention to loosen ties with Ankara. Mr. Tatar, 60, defends a two-state solution.
After voting, Akinci said he hoped the Turkish Cypriots will remember this election “as a celebration of the will of the people” while his rival stressed the importance of maintaining good relations with Turkey.
Considering the TRNC as a major piece in its strategy to defend its interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, Ankara is closely monitoring the election and has stepped up its nudges to Mr. Tatar.
The inauguration with great fanfare of an underwater aqueduct between Northern Cyprus and Turkey and the partial reopening of a famous former seaside resort, abandoned and cordoned off by the Turkish army after the partition of the island, have sparked accusations of interference by Turkey and angered many Turkish Cypriots, Mr. Akinci in the lead.
But displaying an independent line from Ankara is difficult as the TRNC has been under Turkish economic control since its creation in 1983.
The economic crisis, amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic, has not helped anything: it was Ankara which had a hospital (100 beds) built in TRNC to deal with it.
Cyprus gained independence from the UK in 1960, but Turkish troops invaded the north of the island in 1974 in reaction to a coup attempting to reattach the island to Greece.
With his election in 2015, Akinci rekindled hopes for a peace deal, but the last official negotiations collapsed in 2017.
On Saturday, Greek Cypriots gathered near the buffer zone to demand the return of the northern territories, claiming that Cyprus was “Greek”.