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Local elections in north jolt leadership

feature esra mehmet harmanci won almost 50 per cent of the votes in nicosia
Mehmet Harmanci

‘The ruling coalition has offended Turkish Cypriot voters’

Local elections in the northern part of Cyprus, branded as a competition between the “pro-Turkey and the pro-Europe,” and “pro-sovereignty and the pro-federal solution” by the Turkish Cypriot leader himself, have resulted in an unexpected failure for the ruling right-wing coalition.

Support for coalition parties National Unity Party UBP, Democratic Party DP, and Rebirth Party YDP fell compared to the January 2022 general elections, while opposition Republican Turkish Party CTP, and Social Democracy Party TDP, which did not gain any seats in the 2022 elections, saw their votes increase. CTP was the party that won most municipalities, with its candidates succeeding in seven of the 18 municipalities.

Most importantly, the UBP-DP-YDP coalition lost the two big cities – Kyrenia and Famagusta to left-wing CTP and failed to conquer Nicosia from mayor Mehmet Harmanci of TDP.

“Voters have jolted the ones in power,” was the headline of daily Bugun Kıbris on the day after the local elections on 25 December.

“The people have given a warning to the government,” admitted coalition partner YDP’s Erhan Arikli.

Despite allegations of an intervention by Ankara that were never denied, it was especially significant that the ruling coalition lost Famagusta, where the fight for mayor was seen not as simply a local election but about Turkish control and the continuation of the opening of the fenced-off city of Varosha. CTP’s candidate Suleyman Ulucay won the elections in Famagusta with almost 50 per cent of the votes.

The ruling coalition also lost Kyrenia to CTP, with Murat Senkul winning the election with 34.3 per cent of the votes.

Despite the left’s victory in big cities, the ruling coalition and especially UBP was unrivalled in rural areas, bringing its overall vote slightly higher than the overall vote of CTP. The Karpas peninsula for example, where many of the Turkish-origin people live, has, with all its municipalities, gone under the control of UBP with these elections.

“It seems like UBP is standing with the citizenship policy and especially the votes of the Turkish-origin voters,” says journalist Cenk Mutluyakali. “It has offended the Cypriot voters… and died off in central areas.”

UBP’s overall votes decreased from 39.6 per cent in January 2022 to 35.8 percent, while CTP’s votes increased from 31.9 per cent to 35.4 per cent, pointing to a heavily polarised political terrain for the future.

Academician and international relations expert Ipek Borman argues that the current “existential crisis” of Turkish Cypriots played a major role in the setback of the pro-Ankara ruling coalition in big cities.

“As Turkish Cypriots, we find ourselves trying to hold on to life politically and socio-economically, under such conditions, where democracy has been destroyed,” says Borman. “The local elections took place under these circumstances. Therefore, many of us did not, or were not able to look at these elections solely from a municipal or local perspective. Whether we admit it or not, we are living in an existential state of mind and assessing everything in our political environment through this state of mind. Therefore, even local elections were viewed beyond a local perspective, through an existential perspective… In this sense, it is very important that in the three big cities, social democratic people with concerns about the future have won.”

Undoubtedly, the biggest victory was by Nicosia Turkish municipality mayor Harmanci, who won almost 50 per cent of the votes in Nicosia against the candidate of UBP and the strong candidate of CTP. Both of Harmanci’s competitors were deputies in the Turkish Cypriot assembly. Harmanci has become the only mayor after former Turkish Cypriot leader and Nicosia Turkish municipality mayor Mustafa Akinci, who could win the municipal elections for three consecutive terms.

Commentators agree that Harmanci’s major victory should also be seen not solely resulting from local factors, but as a response by the Turkish Cypriot people to the challenges that they are currently faced with.

“Nicosia election results are beyond just ‘local’” says Mutluyakali. “It is an uprising against the social, political, cultural oppression that we are faced with. A message of communal existence was given through Harmanci… The crowds, who want to unite with the world through a common future [with Greek Cypriots], put forward a political attitude. They stood up against rule by [Turkey’s] orders… In Nicosia, the voters called out AKP (Justice and Development Party) and Ankara’s meddling, oppression, interference in Nicosia.”

Many ordinary Turkish Cypriots, as well as opinion leaders and journalists took the social media after the Nicosia results were announced to declare Harmanci the new leader of the Turkish Cypriot community.

“A new leader is born,” tweeted online newspaper Ozgur Gazete.

“Harmanci is now a candidate to be the communal leader,” tweeted former senior judge Tacan Reynar. “The confidence he has secured in the capital city for all these years, calls him to step forward and lead the people.”

“Turkish Cypriots have been looking for a communal leader for some time now,” wrote journalist Hasan Yikici. “The support for Harmanci…must be seen as a serious demonstration of this quest. Mehmet Harmanci should, from now on, be seen as a candidate communal leader.”

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