By Elias Hazou
TURKISH Cypriots who ran for MEP in Sunday’s vote have said they will take to the courts to challenge the legitimacy of the elections, after many eligible Turkish Cypriot voters were prevented from participating due to a bureaucratic cock-up.
Under an amendment to the election law, passed last March, some 90,000 Turkish Cypriots aged 18 and above holding a Republic of Cyprus ID card and residing in the occupied areas would be automatically granted voting rights, with no need to register in the electoral roll.
In contrast, Turkish Cypriots aged 18 and above with a Republic of Cyprus ID card but residing in areas controlled by the government of Cyprus needed to register in order to be eligible to vote The amendment thus made automatic eligibility conditional on one’s residential address.
With the new law, 58,637 Turkish Cypriots automatically gained the right to vote in the European elections – those who had their address of residence in the north recorded by the authorities. All citizens of the Republic have the right to vote, but have to apply to be included in the electoral roll on reaching the age of 18.
Many claim that when Turkish Cypriots first began filling out applications to obtain Republic of Cyprus ID cards, information was transferred to the government database incorrectly. Instead of inputting applicants’ residential addresses, clerks seem to have been inputting their places of birth – in the government-controlled areas.
As a result some 30,000 Turkish Cypriot residents of the occupied areas whose correct residential address in the north was never entered into the database, show up on the system as residents of the government-controlled areas. Having been told that they would be automatically included in the electoral roll, they never applied to register as new voters in the same way as Greek Cypriots are required to do so.
Cock-up aside, official data show that only 1,869 (or 3 per cent) of the 58,637 eligible Turkish Cypriots residing in the north actually cast their ballot on Sunday.
This was picked up on by the Elections Commissioner, who cited the low turnout to dismiss calls for the annulment of the vote on the grounds that red tape-gone-bad stripped thousands of the right to vote.
In a written response to such a demand from Turkish Cypriot politician Izzet Izcan, the official claimed that authorities went out of their way to ensure the smooth participation of Turkish Cypriots.
The ballots were bilingual (Greek and Turkish), the Elections Commissioner said, adding that the interior ministry arranged for buses to transport Turkish Cypriots from the checkpoints to polling stations.
Independent Turkish Cypriot candidate Sener Levent – among those who spotted the electoral roll flaw and was complaining about it days before the vote – said he would be seeking legal recourse to have the elections invalidated.
Levent, editor of the Turkish Cypriot paper Afrika, garnered 2,718 votes – indicating that many Greek Cypriots ticked his name on the ballot paper.
According to reports, upon visiting the special polling stations around 400 Turkish Cypriots found that they were not listed on the electoral roll.
Visiting one of these polling stations, Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos got into an exchange with angry Turkish Cypriots and Deniz Birinci, an MEP candidate for the joint Greek Cypriot-Turkish Cypriot platform DRASY – EYLEM, which obtained 2,220 votes.
“This is a huge infringement of human rights and of people’s democratic and civil rights,” candidate Birinci told the media.
Cameras captured live the back-and-forth, with the Turkish Cypriots unsatisfied with the stock explanation offered by Hasikos, namely that there was nothing that could be done since their residential addresses needed to be recorded in order for them to be registered on the roll.
Speaking to media crews in Greek, Birinci cited anecdotal evidence from Turkish Cypriots that most or all of them had provided their addresses to the civil registry, but because the civil servants did not understand Turkish they left the address field blank or inputted the place of birth instead.
Meanwhile Birinci was posting on her Facebook account calling for EU elections observers to be posted at the special polling stations.
Apparently at one point the minister lost his cool and got into a shouting match with the protesting Turkish Cypriots.
Shortly later, Birinci tweeted: “Cyprus Interior Minister: ‘Of course I shouted, women started talking buru buru, I had to!’”
Her post was accompanied by the hashtags #NoViolenceagainstwomen and #Hasikosresign. But she also made it clear she did not believe this was a deliberate attempt by authorities to strip Turkish Cypriots of their civic rights.
Birinci noted also that the electoral rolls should have been published long before, not a few days before the elections, which might have given eligible Turkish Cypriots time to take corrective action.
Turkish Cypriot media was disparaging in its coverage. Daily Kibris Postasi reports that the Turkish Cypriot candidates will be taking the matter up with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Alev Tugberk of the DRASY – EYLEM group told the paper they would be launching legal proceedings. And Birinci noted that if necessary they would ask for the annulment of the elections.
There were also reports that police at a polling station in Vrysoulles detained a Greek Cypriot man who was protesting against the exclusion of the Turkish Cypriots.
For his part, Hasikos told journalists that “we cannot change the whole procedure just because some people are shouting,” adding that this would jeopardize the elections as a whole.
Asked by the media whether more Turkish Cypriots would have participated had things been done differently, Hasikos sought to downplay the issue by seeking the silver lining.
“At least the first step was taken [for Turkish Cypriot participation], and we should applaud that,” he said.