Cyprus Mail
Guest ColumnistOpinion

Cyprus on the brink: Why a solution is more urgent than ever

The buffer zone

By Phivos Voscarides

The Cyprus problem has been a persistent issue for far too long. With each passing year, the divide between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots grows more profound, making the chances of a peaceful resolution increasingly slim. The world is changing rapidly, and the situation in Cyprus is becoming continuously more unstable. We cannot afford to wait any longer to address this issue. The current state of this frozen conflict that has gripped the island nation cannot last forever.

The 2020 Turkish Cypriot elections offer a glimpse into the shifting political climate in the North. From 2015 to 2020, the number of registered voters in the North rose from approximately 177,000 to 199,000, a 5-year growth rate of roughly 12 per cent. In 2022, this number stands at roughly 208,000 voters. This increase is concerning as it exceeds the 1 per cent yearly population growth rate of the North, and this 12 per cent increase appears to have been reflected in the support for the hardliner politicians. The question to ask is, why is there a huge influx in voters, well beyond demographics, voting for a party that is against a federal solution?

One concerning trend is the increasing support for the National Unity Party, which opposes a federal solution to the Cyprus problem. The party saw an approximately 52 per cent increase in votes, with its candidate receiving approximately 67,000 votes in 2020 compared to 44,000 in 2015. Meanwhile, Mustafa Akinci’s Peace and Democracy Movement, which supports a federal solution, saw a decrease in votes from approximately 67,000 in 2015 to 63,000 in 2020, roughly 6 per cent. The trend is evident here; even with more voters, the dream for unity is fading, and note that during the 2004 referendum for the Annan plan 65 per cent of Turkish Cypriots said yes. With these figures, every year, the chance of a 50 per cent + 1 vote is getting slimmer if not already lost.

Let’s analyse the possible reasons for this trend. The massive influxes of Turkish immigrants into the North, estimated to be as many as 300,000 people, are making Turkish Cypriots a minority even though not all of them have not yet been given citizenship and voting rights. This increase in the Turkish population, combined with tensions over the removal of UN peacekeeping forces and the opening of the Varosha ghost town have sparked tensions between the two sides.

These tensions are also exacerbated by the race to purchase and upgrade military equipment between Cyprus and Turkey due to the removal of the US arms embargo on the Republic of Cyprus by the Biden administration. Additionally, the waning interest of the international community also makes the situation worse, since the peace process needs international support, and all this was just in the past five years! Let’s also not forget that there are elections in Turkey now with the increasingly unpopular president Erdogan. We should not rule out any escalation that could occur to gain popularity.

The upcoming presidential elections in Cyprus are a pivotal moment for the future of the island nation. As voters head to the polls, they must consider the significance of this moment and weigh the urgency of finding a solution to the Cyprus problem. Therefore, voters must choose their candidate wisely, considering who will be most adaptable and responsive to the evolving political landscape in the North and who is most willing to find a mutually acceptable solution to the Cyprus problem. Overall, the upcoming presidential elections in Cyprus represent the last opportunity for a united island.

With political views becoming more entrenched and the situation in Cyprus increasingly complex, voters must take the responsibility seriously. They should carefully consider the island’s future when choosing their candidate and weigh the importance of finding a solution to the Cyprus problem. Despite losing faith in a federal and fair solution, it is essential to remember that the unrecognized TRNC cannot remain in its current state forever, eventually, things could change for the worse.

It is not my intention to address that one side should continuously respond to the changing circumstances in the North; however, the point of this article is to affirm the urgency of a solution before these demographic and political changes become more prominent. If exemplary leadership and political will are in place, the island can confidently negotiate its future, given its significant natural gas reserves and EU membership as a framework for cooperation. One final effort towards a united Cyprus should be made for future generations’ benefit and to fulfil the dream of a united island for all Cypriots.

Phivos Voscarides is a student at the London School of Economics

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