By Yiorgos Kakouris
Had the sides succeeded during the talks in Crans-Montana last year, January’s elections could very well have been the country’s first federal elections. Instead, what happened was that the presidential elections in the south and the legislative elections in the north of the island were perhaps the first where the division was a secondary, if not non-existent, subject. Both for politicians as well as for public opinion.
But these elections were also full of hints over the direction Cypriot politics as a whole will be following in the post-Crans-Montana era. It will be the end of the Cyprus problem as we know it. Whether the era we have entered is one of emerging federalisation or deepening division is still unclear. Increasingly, however, the signs – the natural gas crisis being the latest – point towards the second path.
A dramatic January
The long electoral cycle started on January 7 with the Turkish Cypriot elections, dragged on during the negotiations for the formation of the four-party administration and culminated with the hectic two weeks of the Greek Cypriot presidential elections on January 28 and February 4.
January was a month of dramatic events. The right-wing UBP shocked Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots alike by landing first place in the north’s elections despite being constantly plagued by scandal. Serdar Denktash defied the polls and secured three seats. The parties in opposition managed to overturn the initial result, locking UBP and the extremists of YDP out of the powering sharing game. At the same time, Tayyip Erdogan himself took the unprecedented step of inciting violence against a Turkish Cypriot newspaper, which in turn caused a massive reaction from local civil society and eventually led to the arrest and sentencing of the perpetrators of the attack.
At the same time, Nicolas Papadopoulos took a big gamble by publically presenting the presidential election as a referendum on whether to continue the negotiations down the path taken in recent years by Disy and Akel. This backfired spectacularly when he was left out of the second round, and led to a situation unheard of in Greek Cypriot politics. For the first time Diko refused to back any of the two remaining candidates, meaning that Nicos Anastasiades was reelected without any obligations towards the anti-federal camp.
Not a sign for solution
But are these developments an indication that the pro-federal political forces have received a boost from public opinion and that things are set for a resumption of negotiations, assuming of course that the tension in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone doesn’t lead us to war instead?
Not quite. January’s elections marked the first time that the Cyprus problem was absent from the pre-election campaign in the north, where the main focus was corruption and the need to change Turkish Cypriot politics. In the south, the future of the negotiations was far from the main concern, given Papadopoulos’ failure to come up with a convincing alternative to the negotiations attempted until now.
However, the election results in each community were viewed by the press of the other side exclusively in terms of the Cyprus problem. Greek Cypriot media initially saw UBP’s win as a huge blow to the prospects of a solution and saw hope increase after the four-way coalition emerged. In the same way Turkish Cypriot media saw the result of the first round as an emergence of a pro-federal majority in the south.
That is not to say that the results do not send any message regarding the Cyprus problem. But the message seems to be that the people are not yet ready to push for division, rather than that they are ready for federation.
The persistent majority
We need to attempt a much more complex reading of the results and of political trends in both sides, and this article can only attempt to scratch the surface. A more scientific analysis by more qualified experts is needed.
What seems to have happened is that the results were decided by the persistent majority on both sides, the one that is committed to neither federalism nor anti-federalism. This centrist majority seems, according to studies and polls conducted over the years in both sides, to be open to federation as long as it is coupled with economic development and security. That centrist block gave the necessary push for the CTP to get its turn in governing, elected Mustafa Akinci and now brought HP out of nowhere straight to the third place. That centrist block has also pushed Anastasiades twice to the presidency.
The prevailing trend on both sides however – not very strong for now but gradually gaining in strength – is towards acceptance of the status quo. In the south the pressure is internal, with society slowly sliding towards a defensive reactionary stance that benefits organisations like Elam. In the north the pressure is external, as Ankara forces a shift of the political culture of the Turkish Cypriots towards that of Turkish politics and towards the strengthening of nationalists such as the ones that attacked Afrika. These groups are still in the margins, but the Cypriot political climate is moving in their direction rather than the other way.
This is a very broad reading of the situation; however, it points to the fact that a solution is not necessarily the natural course of things for the majority of the population.
The natural gas crisis that followed the January elections has shown that a significant part of the political class has put aside the aim for a solution in the short term. This is either due to unwillingness, disappointment, caution, or a combination of all three. Politicians have thus become less likely to act and lead the communities towards a federal future, and more likely to react to each other and unfolding events.
At the same time, the Cypriot communities showed that they can vote maturely, and that a federal solution can still be approved in referendums. The possibility that they will get this chance is moving further and further away. There might not be another one.
Yiorgos Kakouris is a journalist for Politis newspaper. This piece was written for YeniDuzen’s magazine Gaile