WHILE the role of ‘President’ in the north’s “constitution” may be primarily symbolic, the outcome of today’s run-off election is of key significance because whichever candidate wins he will become not just the internationally recognised leader the Turkish Cypriot community but in that capacity also takes on the mantle of chief Turkish Cypriot representative at the negotiating table.
Both Dervis Eroglu and rival Mustafa Akinci have repeatedly asserted their commitment to a solution of the Cyprus problem in the course of the election campaign.
The question that remains is just what kind of solution do they believe in.
Eroglu, for many years ‘prime minister’ of the ‘TRNC’, has always been seen as a champion of the division and proponent of recognition of the illegal state.
Nevertheless, even his adversaries allow that since becoming ‘president’ in 2005 he has engaged in the negotiations, first with Demetris Christofias and then President Nicos Anastasiades.
In his election campaign, he promised Turkish Cypriots that with Turkey’s Navtex finished, and once Anastasaides expressed willingness to do so, he would be ready to return to the negotiating table but the proviso would be his insistence on a two-year time-limit for negotiations, other options to be discussed in the absence of results, including a referendum in his own community to decide how to proceed.
He also wants the property issue to be settled mainly on the basis of exchange and compensation; returns should be limited; and resolution of the Varosha issue must be part of the overall solution.
Meanwhile, perceived by many as a the conciliatory, pro-solution candidate, Akinci made clear during the campaign that if elected he has no intention of re-starting the talks with any ‘red lines’ but made clear he might consider a timetable were he convinced that the other side lacked good intentions.
Akinci pledged to prioritise the Varosha negotiations and said he would try to reach agreement with the Greek Cypriots about opening it under United Nations administration in exchange for the easing of restrictions on direct trade and direct flights. This offer would be delinked from the comprehensive negotiations. He contended that such a move would help catalyse the overall negotiations and contribute to building peace.
Similarly, Akinci supports broader implementation of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) to support and supplement the peace process and ultimately prepare people on both sides for a federal solution.
When it comes to issues other than the Cyprus problem, Akinci’s positions are equally clear. He shares the concerns of many young Turkish Cypriots, for instance, many of whom care about gender, human rights, animal rights and the environment.
This is an important distinction between the candidates, one not to be under-estimated, according to political analyst Dr Omur Yilmaz.
«Politics on these issues has always been muted and overshadowed by the endless parochial discussions on the Cyprus problem,» she maintains, serving to «depoliticise» many young people. Akinci’s positions and his willingness to discuss these issues resonate with the young and has given many of them a reason to engage in the political process as voters, volunteers, and supporters.