Ersin Tatar became the fifth ‘president’ of the occupied north on Sunday, spreading disappointment among the contracting number of Greek Cypriots that support a bizonal, bicommunal federation (BBF) and had hoped a win for Mustafa Akinci would have boosted prospects for a settlement.
There is little doubt that Akinci would have been more cooperative and constructive in settlement talks, as his sincere commitment to reunification and BBF could not be questioned by anyone. Then again he had been leader of the Turkish Cypriots for five years and for three years after the collapse of the process in Crans-Montana without the Anastasiades government showing any interest in returning to the negotiations. It was too busy dragging out the discussions about the terms of reference and creating a dispute about the so-called Guterres framework.
Now President Anastasiades will have to negotiate with the more inflexible Tatar, given the UN Secretary-General’s declared intention to undertake a new initiative after the elections in the north. The time-wasting search for agreement on the terms of reference, will be put aside as the way would be opened for the ‘informal five-party conference’ that would establish the type of settlement that would be on the table. At least this was the plan and it also had the support of the EU which will participate in in the peace process.
Tatar has repeatedly said that BBF is no longer an option, which has been the line of Turkey’s government since the collapse of the process in 2017, and that a new form of settlement should be discussed by the sides. This argument is not unreasonable considering the Anastasiades has made no secret of his dislike for political equality, rotating presidency and power-sharing which were considered integral parts of BBF. The problem is that he has no alternative, his attempt to promote the idea of confederation sparking strong Greek Cypriot opposition.
We suspect that, despite Turkey’s rhetoric, the UNSG’s new initiative would still have BBF at its centre. Antonio Guterres’ framework is based on BBF and it is the settlement supported by all UN resolutions, so it is extremely unlikely his new initiative would have partition on its agenda. If Anastasiades signals his acceptance to federation it is doubtful Tatar or Turkey would be in a position to demand a different form of settlement that went counter to UN resolutions.
Tatar may be less flexible than Akinci at talks but if Turkey backs a federal settlement he will not deviate. Akinci was negotiating a BBF, because it had the support of Ankara and the same would apply in Tatar’s case, assuming Anastasiades is also committed to it.