Cyprus Mail
Guest Columnist Opinion

The multiple route to political equality

By Neophytos Loizides

The UN secretary-general’s statement in Berlin on Monday confirmed that there is no alternative to political equality in a reunited Cyprus. Although effective participation has been the cornerstone of the Cyprus peace talks for decades, the fact this issue is now being clarified at this level is a positive development.

Political equality could be achieved through multiple routes while the main options appear to be the following:

  • Rotating presidency with cross-voting. This is still possible given some earlier convergences but so far difficult to agree in its final form. Earlier convergences seem logical but unusual in terms of international precedents. Although incentivised, there is no guarantee that cross-voting will lead to election of moderate candidates. Even when this formula leads to moderates being elected, deadlocks might emerge in one of the two parliaments. The main advantage is that presidents will be expected to serve uninterrupted long terms but this might also prove counter-productive if unresolvable disagreements emerge between the two.
  • Parliamentary arrangements are common in various European power-sharing models (e.g. Belgium, Switzerland). In its simplest form, a government will need the consent of a minimum (e.g. a quarter) of MPs from each community (e.g. in the Senate). Parliamentary democracies could achieve political equality using very simple rules. Parties will need to agree on a single rule that is minimum consent for the election of prime ministers and their cabinets as well as the passage of laws. There is no much need for further provisions as the minimum consent implies effective participation guaranteed ad hoc through a coalition partners agreement. The disadvantage of such parliamentary systems is that coalitions might collapse more easily (e.g. compared to presidencies). But there is also an advantage in getting rid of ineffective leaders at the right time and before causing irrevocable damage to the peace process.
  • A semi-presidential system could combine elements of parliamentary democracy with the option for co-presidents to step in to resolve potential deadlocks at all levels (e.g. once parliament fails to produce a coalition). All EU countries (except Cyprus) are either parliamentary or semi-presidential systems. The main disadvantage of semi-presidentialism as demonstrated recently in some Eastern European cases (e.g. Ukraine) is the confusion between the authorities of presidents vs. the prime-minister that could be avoided by simply restricting the authority of presidents to arbitration. Such a system could be more functional, if it includes a triple lock approach that allows co-presidents to make decisions, if cabinet formation fails. If presidents also fail, then courts could arbitrate.

In all three options above, there is an additional safety net through judicial intervention. The supreme court could be involved in decision making as the last resort therefore there is a dilemma as to how judges will be selected and whether membership should be community-based only or enriched by internationally respected non-Cypriot legal experts for quicker and more balanced decisions.

There is a further distinction. All options, could rely on community (ethnic) quotas or assume a more liberal form of consociationalism. This is a spectrum but such liberal coalitions are more likely in parliamentary systems where coalitions are made among parties/regions and no fixed posts are pre-defined on the basis of ethnicity exclusively. International courts (e.g. ECHR) have often taken decisions against extreme forms of ethnic quotas (e.g. for the Bosnian presidency) but have tolerated some that appear reasonable. Liberal consociationalism could make the settlement more attractive to referendum voters and if carefully designed, could balance the insecurities of the two sides without violating the principles of political equality.

There is a broader (realist) interpretation of the Guterres package/Berlin statement that needs to be taken into consideration in rethinking political equality options. Perhaps, Turkey has now realised that it is not in its long-term interests to keep occupying EU territory. Guterres effectively trades military presence for political equality and importantly for Turkey, this trade-off implies a safety net via Turkish Cypriots against unfavourable future EU decisions. Within the EU and federal Cyprus, Turkish Cypriots will be perfectly capable of balancing Cypriot interests and EU-Turkish relations. This is the broader picture of the peace settlement and political equality whereas EU and Turkey come closer to each other while Cypriots regain a reunited island.

Neophytos Loizides is a professor in International Conflict Analysis at the University of Kent


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