By Stefanos Evripidou
A BILL passed by parliament this week has opened the floodgates for 67,000 Turkish Cypriots to participate in the European Parliament (EP) elections in May that will send six Cypriot MEPs to Brussels and Strasbourg.
So far, none of the current Turkish Cypriot politicians has expressed a desire to run for MEP, while no Greek Cypriot party has invited a Turkish Cypriot candidate to join its ticket.
However, two Turkish Cypriots have said they will stand in the May 25 election: Sener Levent, publisher of the pro-solution Afrika newspaper and English language teacher Erkin Ahmet Salih.
If they submit their candidacies on May 2, they will be the first Turkish Cypriots with a chance of being elected by the thousands of Turkish Cypriots who were granted the automatic right to vote.
A Turkish Cypriot candidate from Famagusta ran in the first election for MEPs in 2004 but only mustered a few hundred token votes.
Veteran journalist Levent had said he would run in 2009 but ended up endorsing a Greek Cypriot candidate instead.
In January, he declared his intention to stand in the upcoming elections, but has not raised the matter since. Salih, on the other hand, who describes himself as a British Cypriot, has already begun the uphill battle to secure one of the six spots in the EP reserved for Cyprus, appealing to Turkish Cypriots, Greek Cypriots, EU nationals and animal lovers to back his effort.
Speaking to the Cyprus Mail yesterday, the 47-year-old teacher said he disagreed with the vast majority of the Turkish Cypriot political leadership who have rejected the chance to participate in the election, arguing that the 1960 Constitution provides for separate elections in each community. The leadership also argues that Turkish Cypriots should be guaranteed two out of the six seats in the EP.
“The European Parliament elections are not based on ethnicity but proportional representation,” Salih said, adding, “the point I’m trying to make is that the system is not the same as it was in 1960.”
For one, the 1960 rules are applicable only for national elections in the Republic. There is no mention in the constitution of European Parliament elections, which are governed by EU laws, providing EU nationals residing in Cyprus for more than six months the right to vote and stand as candidates in municipal and EP elections.
Salih, who is constantly defending his decision to stand as an independent candidate in online fora and social media, further argues that the EP election framework currently provides no limit to how many Turkish Cypriots are elected. So, depending on the turnout, one, two or three Turkish Cypriots could be elected as MEPs.
The whole point of the EP is to represent EU nationals, not specific ethnicities, he said, noting that if Turkish Cypriots were guaranteed two places and Greek Cypriots four, how would the remaining EU nationals living in Cyprus exercise their right to vote and stand as candidates?
He called on Turkish Cypriots to decide what they want: “On the one hand, you’re claiming to be a separate entity, on the other applying for Cyprus Republic IDs to travel freely throughout Europe. You can’t have the best of both worlds.”
He argued that since 2004, over 10,000 Turkish Cypriots have taken Cyprus Republic IDs and moved to the UK, while over 4,000 are studying there.
Salih was born to Turkish Cypriot parents in Episkopi, the fifth of a six-child family that moved to the UK in 1973 to temporarily avoid the intercommunal troubles. A year later, they became refugees and stayed in the UK.
From 1999, Salih has travelled to many countries teaching English as a foreign language, living for a time in Morocco, Tunisia, Singapore, Oman and Turkey until 2010 when he moved to Cyprus.
Initially living in the north, Salih relocated to the government-controlled areas in Nicosia to avoid military service.
“I’m prepared to do my military service but not for a non-Cypriot government. The army is controlled by Turkey and I am not a citizen of the Republic of Turkey.”
He shares a flat with a Greek Cypriot and says he has many Greek Cypriot friends.
“I’m interested in running as a candidate because I want to get the point across that there are no great problems between us.”
Already, around 400 Greek Cypriots have voiced their support for his candidacy. While there is some interest in the north, most support for Salih has come from the Turkish Cypriot community in the UK.
It will be interesting to see how many of those who are not registered in the UK will be eligible to vote on May 25 using the London voting booths.
“Turkish Cypriots have been misled by political parties in the north that Greek Cypriots do not represent them in the EU, so their chances of coming out to vote are very slim. I would be appealing more to Turkish Cypriots in the south, in mixed villages like Pyla, who are in everyday contact with Greek Cypriots, and those who cross over to work every day in the south,” he said.
Salih also called on EU nationals to “pull their finger out” and register in time to have their say in the EP election.
“EU nationals have to use their vote to get their voices heard. The last few years, EU nationals had to appeal to UK MEPs to raise the property issue of title deeds. As a British Cypriot, I’m in a better position to assist or help all EU nationals in the fight for their rights.”
He also wants to cooperate with animal rights activists to help promote the rights of animal in Cyprus and the rest of Europe.
Regardless of political interest, Salih insists he will remain an independent candidate.
“I’m even financing the campaign myself at moment. Just to register as a candidate costs €1,000,” he says, adding, “if I did accidentally win, I intend to affiliate myself with the Liberals in the EP.”