By Agnieszka Rakoczy
THE newly formed Turkish Cypriot four-party ‘governing’ coalition announced its programme on Friday. Experts say the reform block’s priorities — 22 in all — address many of the most chronic issues now facing the north of Cyprus and that the proposed remedies are realistic, feasible and formulated in such a way that it should not rock the boat with Ankara.
“The 22 priorities are handpicked very carefully and are not in conflict with Turkish interests on the island,” according to Sertac Sonan of the Cyprus International University in the north of Nicosia.
“All are practical and doable. There is no ideology attached to them. You can see that the new government doesn’t want to get into a confrontation with Ankara about the things they know they would lose anyway.”
Sonan says all four parties CTP, HP, TDP and DP and their respective leaders Tufan Erhurman, Kudret Ozersay, Cemal Ozyigit and Serdar Denktash, have a vested interest in carrying out a programme of reforms in the north where the system in place was constantly undermining them.
“The only party that thrives in the system is the UBP and this was evidenced very clearly in the election results. Despite all the allegations of corruption, UBP still came first with over 35 per cent of the votes. So the coalition parties know they have to implement a programme of good ‘governance’. If not, they will continue losing,” he says.
One of the first actions to show Turkish Cypriots that the new administration is seriously getting down to business will be how it addresses the insidious abuse of top civil service posts. The practice of political placements in the senior-most jobs, those at the level of department director or undersecretary, had become increasingly problematic, even pernicious, under UBP. An appointee is assured that salary level for the rest of his or her civil service career, whether or not they retain the post.
“The problem is that whenever there is a change of the government, new people are appointed, and those they replace … become ‘governmental advisers’ and keep on collecting their salaries, regardless of whether they work or not. Not surprisingly, people are very sensitive about this issue,” Sonan explains.
“In the last government, UBP really outdid itself”, he continues. “They kept appointing their cronies, then sacking them and appointing others — sometimes even members of the same family! Indeed, such was the level of abuse, that at one stage “Mustafa Akinci refused to sign off on an appointment.”
This, Sonan adds, is why the new ‘government’ has announced that rather than appoint any new advisers, it plans to recycle the already existing ones “and put them to good use so they earn their keep.”
In similar vein, the new ‘government’ intends to look into how the previous administration granted select citizenships, especially in the case of those given by the ‘Council of Ministers’ invoking the rule of exceptional circumstances.
This shortcut allows the ‘Council’ to make anyone a ‘citizen’ provided the individual concerned is deemed to have contributed or likely “to contribute to the state,” according to Sonan. The previous ‘government’ used this approach on numerous occasions without explanation. The new ‘governing coalition’ has undertaken to review these cases and promises to revoke those that cannot be backed up as having just cause.
In this regard, the coalition is also planning to amend the north’s “citizenship law” by stipulating for example that new ‘citizens’ cannot exercise the right to vote until the second election after being granted ‘citizenship’. This would curb any future attempts to grant ‘citizenships’ in exchange for votes.
The new coalition consists of two left-wing, one centrist and one conservative parties. Between them, they command 27 of the 50 seats in ‘parliament’. In tackling the integrity-sapping pattern of “jobs for the boys”, the coalition is determined that future appointments to all top positions in ‘semi-government’ bodies will be made through the ‘council of ministers’. The intent is that this should effectively introduce some much-needed checks and balances to what had been up to now a free-wheeling process. Also in the works is a newly designed tender system intended to ensure greater participation by domestic concerns.
In keeping with the commitment to fight corruption, the coalition partnership plans to create a special office to investigate the many controversies and allegations of malfeasance that rocked the north over the last months.
Again, Sonan comments: “This will be done to speed up these investigations because traditionally both police and the attorney-general can be very slow in their procedures.”
The coalition also seeks to reform the north’s education and health systems, and, in pursuing new directions in city planning, has already moved the relevant planning department from the tourism and environment ministry to the interior ministry.
Asked about the new ‘government’s’ prospects for success, Ahmet Sozen of East Mediterranean University in Famagusta says:
“They don’t have the luxury to be unsuccessful. They need to start delivering things that are tangible so they can increase people’s trust in them. They have to remember that according to the public polls, citizens want improvement in their daily lives. This is much more important for them than fighting corruption or solving the Cyprus problem right now. One thing this government has already done is boost public morale and raised hope. This means that expectations have already been raised and given that they have to start delivering as soon as possible.”
Sozen says most of the promises made by the coalition will not require constitutional changes. As long as all four parties cooperate, they will be able to promote their agenda accordingly thanks to the votes of their 27 ‘MPs’.
He warns, however, that the Cyprus problem is one potential subject that could undermine the harmonious cooperation underlying the coalition’s four musketeers’ “all for one, one for all” attitude because of each party’s “different approach” to the Cyprob.
Nonetheless, he commends the coalition members’ brilliance for “agreeing that as the ‘government’ they will not take any position towards the Cyprus negotiations and they will leave it 100 per cent to Akinci.” Not that they will remain silent on the issue. “Each party will reserve the right to make public statements on the subject but these will apply only to the individual party and bind none of the others. With this decision, they may well have managed to erase a potentially huge problem in advance.”
Sozen agrees with Sonan that the coalition should be able to maintain good relations with Ankara, especially given that “at least three of the parties concerned — CTP, HP and DP — always preached that approach”.
“The only party that might have a problem is TDP but all their statements [against Turkey] were made when they were outside of government, so I think now they will have to smooth their corners,” he predicts.
Asked about the recent protests and demonstrations outside Afrika newspaper, including the arrests of the group of alleged their perpetrators and a possible conflict with Ankara over this, Sozen claims that as long as the ‘government’ remains firm on the rule of law and the principles such as freedom of press and expression, he doesn’t think there will be a problem.”
Yet he admits there are tensions in the society that have to be carefully watched and gradually addressed, “all within the law”.
Mete Hatay, PRIO’s senior consultant in Cyprus defines the current climate as being at “an important turning point that might have its price…” But Turkey, he notes, “wants to end her patronage and liberalise the Turkish Cypriot economy so perhaps in the end of the day this coalition is not far away from what Ankara wants provided they manage to convince the Turkish government about it.”
One remaining question is how long the first ever four-party coalition can survive in a place where going back to 2003 no ‘government’ has managed to last a full term.
“I don’t think they will stay for five years but if they start and continue well I hope they will be in power for more than a year and a half,” says Sozen.
And Sonan adds: “One thing they will definitely need to do to survive is a very good communication strategist who won’t allow the public expectations to go too high. We can’t expect a government with the two-seat majority that comes from holding 27 seats to fix all the wrongs that have accumulated in north Cyprus over the last 50 years and to do it immediately. It is just not fair.”