By Angelos Anastasiou
SOME 30.000 Turkish Cypriots who reside in the occupied areas have been excluded from the electoral roll due to a domino-effect bureaucratic deadlock.
On the back of Turkish Cypriot journalist Sener Levent’s protest on Thursday, when he wrote an article calling for the postponement of the European Parliament elections in Cyprus because his son – and several others who had contacted him – were not included in the special electoral roll listing eligible Turkish Cypriot voters, many more came forth yesterday with the same claim.
According to an amendment to Cyprus election law, passed last March, approximately 90.000 Turkish Cypriots aged 18 or more who hold a Republic of Cyprus ID card and reside 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 or over who hold a Republic of Cyprus ID card but reside in areas controlled by the government of Cyprus must register in order to be granted voting rights – just like Greek Cypriots and other residents. Therefore, the amendment made automatic eligibility conditional, depending solely on one’s residential address.
The special electoral roll containing the automatic entries of Turkish Cypriots residing in the occupied areas was published by the Cyprus government on Wednesday. Many Turkish Cypriots were unable to find their names in the list, including Levent’s son, causing the Turkish Cypriot journalist’s public outburst. In it, Levent claimed to have received numerous phone calls from other Turkish Cypriots facing the same predicament.
“This is a full-blown scandal, an embarrassment,” a furious Levent wrote.
Addressing the issue, the Elections Commissioner Constantinos Nicolaides said that legislation relating to the registration of Turkish Cypriots has been followed “to the letter.”
“I fully disagree and am sorry that such problems have arisen, perhaps due to the ignorance of those complaining,” he said.
Head of the Interior Ministry’s Election Service Demetris Demetriou said that the relevant legislation is “crystal clear” and provides for all citizens residing in the occupied areas to be automatically eligible, based on the information submitted to the civil registration system.
“This information is submitted to the civil registry in order to obtain documents issued by the civil registry – passports, identity cards, or other documents issued by the Republic,” he said.
“During the submission of one such application, some of our fellow citizens stated their address in the occupied areas, and they were automatically included in the electoral roll. But a significant number stated no address, and another large number has stated an address in the government-controlled areas,” he said.
“Our service followed the law to the letter, and it gave 58,637 Turkish Cypriots automatic voting rights,” he concluded.
But increasingly, claims of bureaucratic incompetence seem to drown out the arguments made by the Election Service. Some claim that when Turkish Cypriots filled 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 place of births, causing a giant problem that seems impossible to overcome by Sunday. Some 30,000 Turkish Cypriot residents of the occupied areas whose correct residential address in the north was never entered into the database, show on the system as residents of the government-controlled areas. And, having been told that they would be automatically included in the electoral roll, they never applied to register.
Effectively, the Republic of Cyprus is denying tens of thousands of its citizens their civil rights.
But while some in the occupied areas were quick to jump the gun with what they saw as a conspiracy by the Cyprus government to strip Turkish Cypriots of their democratic right to vote, others offered a more plausible explanation.
Bureaucratic shortcomings are nothing new in Cyprus, and this issue was probably the result of a mismanaged initiative.
But despite repeated appeals to the Elections Service, the Interior Ministry, the Ombudswoman and the EU’s representative office in Cyprus, no solution to the issue has been forthcoming. AKEL issued a statement lambasting the government’s poor handling of the issue, arguing that publishing an electoral roll containing thousands of names three days before the election left no room for fixing any problems.
“On the other hand, this fact should not discourage those of our Turkish Cypriot compatriots who wish to vote and have been included on the electoral roll to do so on Sunday, sending their own messages,” AKEL said.
But while Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos retorted on what he described as AKEL’s “feeble attempt to attract a few Turkish Cypriot votes”, he had nothing to offer on the substance of the issue.