By Esra Aygin
There is unprecedented interest among Turkish Cypriots to vote in the upcoming European Parliament elections
THE unprecedented interest by Turkish Cypriots in the upcoming European Parliament (EP) elections is giving rise to concerns about whether enough measures will be taken to overcome logistical challenges and ensure their smooth voting.
Some 81,000 Turkish Cypriots living in the northern part of the island are currently on the electoral list for the European Parliament elections due 26 May. Although it is not possible to estimate how many of those 81,000 will actually cross to the southern part of the island to vote, researchers expect a much higher turnout compared to the previous EP elections.
“The latest surveys show that the majority of Turkish Cypriots view these elections in a positive light,” said researcher Mine Yucel of The Centre for Migration, Identity and Rights Studies. “We can be certain that a higher than ever number of Turkish Cypriots will go to polls that day.”
In 2014, less than 2,000 Turkish Cypriots voted, while hundreds of them were turned away due to bureaucratic and technical problems that excluded them from the electoral list. Concerns that such problems may arise again, coupled with the already long queues at the crossing points on the weekends are making many Turkish Cypriots wonder whether they will indeed be able to vote.
“It won’t take an effort on the part of officials to make it difficult to vote that day,” said Famagusta Initiative activist Mertkan Hamit, who plans to vote on 26 May. “Just not taking additional measures at the crossing points and treating it like an ordinary Sunday will be enough to discourage many Turkish Cypriots.”
The Repubic of Cyprus will set up around 50 voting stations for Turkish Cypriots along the Green Line at walking distance from crossing points from Kato Pyrgos to Dherynia. Head of the election service Demetris Demetriou told the Cyprus Mail that arrangements have been made for additional staff and equipment at the Ledra Street, Ledra Palace and Dherynia crossing points, which are expected to be the busiest, to avoid delays or problems due to the increased numbers of Turkish Cypriots crossing. The Cyprus Mail has learnt that the Turkish Cypriot authorities will also place additional personnel at the Nicosia and Famagusta crossing points.
The locations of the 50 voting stations will be announced in early May but the majority of the ballot boxes would be in Nicosia, Demetriou said. “We have made arrangements for Turkish-speaking officers” at the voting stations to be used by Turkish Cypriots,” he added.
Although the EU acquis is suspended in the northern part of the island, Turkish Cypriots, as EU citizens, have the right to run and to vote in the European Parliament Elections.
Considering the Cypriot candidate with the least support won a seat at the European Parliament with 16,000 votes in 2014, the 81,000 Turkish Cypriot votes is a significant number that could have a big impact on the results.
A record number of nine Turkish Cypriot candidates have submitted their candidacy for this year’s European Parliament elections, which also saw a major Greek Cypriot party – left-wing Akel – field a Turkish Cypriot on its ticket for the first time ever. Turkish Cypriot academic Niyazi Kizilyurek – a longtime supporter of a federal, united Cyprus – is among the six candidates of main opposition Akel.
Apart from Kizilyurek, five other Turkish Cypriots are running together with renowned journalist Sever Levent of Afrika newspaper as part of his Jasmine Movement; and two others are running from the Cyprus Socialist Party.
Although a number of Turkish Cypriots ran in previous elections, none of them garnered enough votes to represent Cyprus at the EP.
The sudden mobilisation among the Turkish Cypriot community is due to a number of reasons, from the disappointment with the solution process to the presence of strong Turkish Cypriot candidates, according to analysts.
Kizilyurek – running from Akel – is running a full-fledged, bi-lingual campaign throughout the island. which is the first time the northern part of Cyprus is witnessing a professional campaign for the EP elections complete with billboards, social media and newspaper ads and village visits.
“Those people, who identify themselves with the left are going through a big disillusionment both in terms of the solution process, and the left-wing parties,” said political scientist Umut Bozkurt. “This, coupled with a popular Turkish Cypriot candidate from a major Greek Cypriot party, who actually has a big chance of winning, has provided the leftist, social democrat Turkish Cypriots with a new arena to fight.”
Political scientist Sertac Sonan believes that these EP elections could signify the beginnings of a new paradigm in the Turkish Cypriot community: “The pro-unification Turkish Cypriots do not have much space to maneuver as prospects of a solution are getting worse while the right-wing and Turkey are becoming more hardline. And maybe highlighting their EU citizenship, EU identity, trying to get their voices heard through the EU may be the new struggle, a new channel for them.”
“How many Turkish Cypriots will actually be able to vote will depend largely on the goodwill of the authorities on both sides,” said Yucel. “If they are genuine, they will foresee the problems and resolve them. Failure to assist Turkish Cypriots’ smooth voting that day could even be seen as discrimination.”
Cyprus has six seats in the European Parliament.