Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist

Preparing voters for the referendums

No and Yes on display in the lead up to the 2004 referendum

The two leaders in Cyprus met a few weeks ago to discuss how to implement any settlement, when (or if) an agreement is reached. So much needs to be done before Cyprus can be unified under a federation that we need to look at the practicalities of how to actually get to “the day after a Cyprus settlement”.

Clearly, the simultaneous referendums, required concurrently for both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities to approve or reject the settlement, are the first priority. The recent experience with the Columbian referendum for a peace settlement, where the settlement was marginally rejected, shows that voters should not be taken for granted. In Cyprus the bitter experience of the 2004 referendum on the Greek Cypriot side should not be repeated. And again we have the experience of the marginal No vote in the UK referendum in June. Perhaps it is useful to discuss the possibility of introducing a clear margin for the vote (whatever it is) that must be cleared for the result to be valid. This could be a 55 per cent hurdle, anything between 50 and 55 per cent leading to a replay (as is commonly done in European referendums – Ireland, France EU treaty votes).

The Turkish Cypriot leader appears to have suggested that six months would be required to prepare for a referendum, and given the complexities involved this seems wise. First there appears to be no law about the organisation of referendums in Cyprus, on either side of the Green Line. Given the bitterness of the 2004 referendum, a law or regulations need to be introduced for dealing with the most controversial aspects of past experience. The following are necessary:

  • A law or regulation clarifying who can vote, the registration of the entities supporting or rejecting the agreement, and a registration of sources of finance for the campaigns.
  • The law should place a ban on public sector funds (including state controlled institutions) being used, other than for funding of the referendum process, and public information setting out the main aspects of the settlement in both the formal, official text and simplified language. This was done by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) last time, but it should be undertaken by the government and the administration. There should be transparency in funding the Yes and No campaigns.
  • Both public sector and private sector TV and radio stations should follow a strict code on maintaining objectivity, and should have neutral information programmes. The press is more difficult to limit, but again they should present both sides of the arguments, but I do not think one could impose a ban on the press taking a position either way, though state TV and radio companies should be objective.

Citizens’ concerns

The main difficulty, however, is the need to educate and prepare the population for a vote, by addressing their concerns. Over and above public information campaigns, in 2004 many people worried about their future. Civil servants worried about their employment and pension rights if their department became a federal one. There was also scepticism as to how they would communicate with colleagues from the other community. A simple solution on communications is that internally the federal government would run on English, but that the reply to outside queries would be in the language of the communication in which the query is written (Greek, Turkish, English). Those not able to communicate in English should be trained, or should be appointed within the federated states.

In 2004 the Greek Cypriots employed in the National Guard were worried about their future; presumably there are concerns also in the Turkish Cypriot community. Businessmen on both sides are concerned about competition from the other community, especially loss of agency status (representatives of car firms, telephone companies, etc). These issues have to be resolved before the referendum. One solution would be that they keep their franchises within their province, but can sell to anyone (no trade barriers).

Treaties

One of the main criticisms of the opposition to a settlement on the Greek Cypriot side is the argument that the Republic of Cyprus will be dissolved. Despite the fact that there is no basis for this, as the 2014 agreement that set the basis for the Cyprus talks, states that the Federated State of Cyprus will continue to be a member of the United Nations and the European Union. This is also supported by the fact that the 2,400 odd treaties signed by the Republic of Cyprus will continue under the Federated State without new applications for membership. One of the problems is that in 2004 there were also over 100 international agreements (mainly with Turkey) that the Turkish Cypriot side wanted to continue after a settlement. This is considered unacceptable by the Greek Cypriot side because it would be recognition of the administration in northern Cyprus, contrary to UN resolutions.

 

The solution would appear to be to establish first the constitutional wording for the right of the provinces to have agreements with other countries and international organisations, and prepare rules and regulations for such agreements. One of the concerns is that financial agreements by provinces could lead to their bankruptcy in which case, the federal government would have to support the province concerned. Once the proposed constitutional changes and regulations are agreed, the existing treaties of both communities could be examined and assigned to the provinces in accordance with the regulations. These could become operative on day one of the new constitution coming into effect.

There should be time for all this if my proposal that the adoption of the federal constitution begins one year after the referendum is adopted.

 

 

Costas Apostolides is a lecturer at Malta University responsible for ‘Negotiation for Conflict Resolution’, a founder of Pax Cypria Cyprus Institute for Peace, and a member of the committees on property and territorial adjustment established by President Nicos Anastasiades. This article follows up an introductory article last week entitled ‘The day after a Cyprus settlement’

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