Cyprus Mail

The Donald effect, post-truth and other enigmas

By Alper Ali Riza

The election of Donald Trump as president of the US has pleased the Russians but displeased the Europeans, the Chinese, the Mexicans, the Muslims and others. It has particularly upset black people, Jewish people, liberated women and the gay community in America. It has however delighted the rejectionist camp in Cyprus.

The idea peddled by the rejectionists is not to compromise at the resumed talks in Switzerland which start on Sunday, but to wait until Trump takes over in January 2017 when their side will be much better placed to dictate terms in any settlement.

This is pie in the sky of course. It reminds me of the greedy dog in Aesop’s fable that foolishly let go of the bone between his teeth for its poor reflection in the pond and got what the Turks amusingly call uchun birini.

It also reminded me of a story – probably apocryphal – about the pomposity and self-importance with which CyBC, the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation, and all the rejectionist newspapers report the Cyprus problem.

Apparently, when President Nixon and Chairman Mao met in China in1972, CyBC reported that amongst other subjects, the two leaders also discussed the Cyprus problem – metaxi allon esizitisan ke to kypriako.

The truth is that the Cyprus problem does not engage the vital interests of the US as seen from Trump Tower, in the same way that it did not remotely figure in the discussions between Nixon and Mao.

Be all that as it may, the American election result may be relevant to Cyprus because it brings into sharp focus how the Electoral College works in a federal system that seeks to balance the collective popular vote and state representation. It may be a useful institution to adopt in presidential elections in Cyprus with significant adaptations to suit a two-state federation.

Hillary Clinton actually beat Donald Trump by approximately 250,000, yet lost the election. She got approximately 59.75 million to his 59.50 million of the collective national vote. This has only happened three times before, the last being when George W Bush defeated Al Gore in 2000. If it were a referendum, Trump would have been consigned to the dustbin of history.

Instead, he has confounded history in post-truth America, making post-truth the international word of the year (though actually I owe the title of this article to a book called ‘Truth and Other Enigmas’ by my old brother-in-arms against racism, the late professor Sir Michael Dummet, of Oxford University).

Post-truth – circumstances in which what counts is opinion and emotions rather than truth – landed the world with a Goldfinger figure as president of the US who does not like minorities, does not believe in climate change, and does not rule out first use of nuclear weapons. Send for 007. Yes, Bond, James Bond!

And yet the Electoral College system has performed a most useful function because it acted as a necessary corrective between the states of the federal government. The battleground states have indeed been ravaged by ruthless globalisation and the problems associated with rapid technological change, and Trump gave voice to those left behind.

The Electoral College is composed of Electors voted by the people in each of the states in the US on a winner takes all basis. Each state is weighted to provide federal force to the presidency through the ballot box.

The Electoral College usually gives effect to the choice of the people from each state. This, and the checks and balances between president, Congress, and the supreme court are the mechanisms that keep the US together.

Which conveniently brings me to the true relevance of all this to Cyprus rather than the post-truth world peddled by the rejectionists. One of the major obstacles to a solution to the Cyprus problem has been how to persuade people to accept that in politics, majority rule is not the be all and end all of representative democracy but one of the means to that end. As Bismarck said, ‘politics is the art of the possible, the attainable – the art of the next best.’

Indeed, majority rule is sometimes hugely problematic. In the UK, there are 16 million people who do not want to leave the EU but we all have to grin and bear it because 17 million decided they want to leave.

What works in the corridors of power in the post-modern world of the EU however is a spirit of solidarity and compromise. The British are leaving because by a narrow majority they decided they were not prepared to compromise their transactional national interests. But most Cypriots do not want to leave the EU. They positively want to remain for existential reasons, hence the need to adopt a much more communitarian frame of mind.

A comprehensive settlement in Cyprus is now within reach. Cyprus is a member of the European Union and owes Europe – not the Russian Federation – her first loyalty. This is a hugely important geopolitical truth that needs to be factored into the talks. After all it may not be too long before the EU assumes Nato’s defence mantle if the US under Trump carries out his threat to disengage from the defence of Europe and Britain remains high and dry in Mid Atlantic.

Cyprus was very keen to join the EU in 2004, primarily for reasons of security. She was welcomed into the EU promising to solve her problem. The Cypriot people therefore have a responsibility to keep that promise and not allow themselves to be influenced by irrational ideas that Cyprus is being pressured unfairly by the EU to reach a comprehensive settlement. As if the EU is doing anything wrong in pressing for a settlement.

It is not, and Russia is making mischief in suggesting otherwise. In fact, the contrary is the case. The EU has an obligation under Protocol 10 attached to the Treaty of Accession of Cyprus to help bring about a settlement.

So, of course, Cyprus is being pressed to solve the Cyprus problem. How could it be otherwise? The EU did not want Cyprus to join the EU without solving her problem first, but was persuaded to do so against its better judgement on the understanding that a compromise settlement was going to be agreed in 2004 or shortly afterwards.

People have to avoid being swayed by propaganda that seeks to take advantage of their emotionalism. The truth is that when Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, it was never intended by the EU that the Turkish Cypriot community would be excluded from the incidents and benefits of membership absent a settlement for as long as it has been.

All I ask of both leaders as they meet in Switzerland is to ask what Glafkos Clerides would have done in their shoes, apart from having a glass or two?


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

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