Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

One referendum one result

One referendum would be more advantageous than two

By Alper Ali Riza

BEFORE I go any further I owe Latin scholars an advance apology. As I understand English grammar the plural of referendum is referendums not referenda.

For those who support reunification under a federal umbrella one referendum would be more advantageous than two separate referendums held simultaneously.

It would kill two birds with one stone. First, it would make a yes vote more likely; secondly, a simple majority for yes after a single referendum of all Cypriot citizens would be an auspicious launch of the federal republic and will put paid to the majoritarian pretensions of the rejectionists right at the outset and bode well for the future.

The anecdotal evidence suggests that the total number of pro-solution votes is more likely to exceed that of the rejectionists if there is one referendum and one majority than if there were two referendums and two separate majorities.

In other words the Turkish Cypriot pro-solution votes are likely to boost the yes vote and may even prove decisive.

I owe the conceptual leap that led me to this obvious conclusion to this year’s BBC Reith lectures by Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah. He is a distinguished philosopher lawyer. He is an American born in England. His father was from Ghana and his mother is English.

His four lectures come under the general rubric, Mistaken Identities. The first was on Creed and the second on Country. The other two will be on Color and Culture.

They are on the BBC web site and are essential listening for all those who think seriously about these things.

The lecture called Country was delivered in Scotland. The venue was imaginative. It chimed with the subject as his lecture touched on Scottish independence in the context the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

Professor Appiah said that he had ‘no dog in the fight’ about Scottish independence but he did consider the nature of referendums and their reach. In Kosovo only the people of Kosovo were consulted about independence instead of the whole of Serbia, which Russia said was not fair.

On the other hand, Russia herself organised a referendum in Crimea, which did not involve the whole population of Ukraine.

Again, in Catalonia in Spain, the Catalan government held a referendum in 2014, which did not involve the whole population of Spain.

The nature and reach of referendums seem to depend on the history and politics of the country. Russia for example did not feel the need to consult the whole population of Ukraine in the Crimean referendum because according to the Russian narrative most of the people in Crimea are ethnic Russians and Crimea was given to Ukraine thoughtlessly when Russia and Ukraine were both part of the USSR.

Different considerations apply in Cyprus where we are trying to put our country back together again after it was messed up by the huge mistakes of a narrow minded, inexperienced and irresponsible generation of political leaders who still have their hangover adherents in the media and in parliament to this day and who poison hearts and minds every day in every way.

Our democratically elected leaders however are working hard to agree a blueprint to put to the people. It will be in accordance the finest collection of principles of government ever devised by man, emanating as they do from the EU acquis communautaire.

But it is not an easy task. It requires delicate handling and a pragmatic approach and at the same time the patience to fend off an assortment of opportunists and fascists and their fellow travellers.

As far as the Turkish Cypriots are concerned I recognise that the conceptual leap to hold just one referendum requires an emotional leap that may seem like a leap into the unknown since theoretically they will always be outvoted if the Greek Cypriots vote monolithically.

Nevertheless, I am confident that such an emotional leap forward will be to the good for most Turkish Cypriots and they can rest assured that most Greek Cypriots will not vote monolithically.

But more importantly, a federal republic is what the Turkish Cypriots want whereas the Greek Cypriots always preferred a unitary state. I am sure most Turkish Cypriots will understand that if the Greek Cypriots are now to be asked to vote for a federal state vel non, given they are the majority, it is only fair that the referendum should be conducted on the basis of a simple majority of all the votes cast in the whole of Cyprus in one referendum.

In any event for the purposes of Protocol 10 of the Cyprus’ Treaty of Accession the result of a majority of citizens of Cyprus voting in one referendum is more likely to have legal consequences under public international law than two referendums.


Alper Ali Riza is a queen’s counsel in the UK and a part time judge

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