Cyprus Mail

Arikli in peril as party withdraws rotating leadership offer

Arikli said he will make an “official merger proposal” to Milletin Partisi leader Bertan Zaroglu.

The north’s ‘transport minister’ Erhan Arikli’s position as leader of his party the YDP now hangs in the balance after the party on Thursday withdrew an offer for him and his challenger Talip Atalay to jointly run the party under a “rotating leadership” system.

Arikli had jumped at the offer when it was made by the YDP’s district branch leaders amidst a bitter leadership battle.

District branch leaders had suggested to Arikli on Wednesday night that he lead the party until the next ‘parliamentary’ election before Atalay takes over for the campaign and leads the party thereafter.

Arikli then publicly announced his acceptance of the offer on the condition that he be allowed to lead the party for at least the next 18 months, thus likely giving himself a platform to run in the Turkish Cypriot leadership elections in October next year.

“Let our party conference turn into a celebration,” he announced.

Meanwhile, Atalay made no public statement on the matter, though sources suggested he “did not look favourably” on the idea.

In any case, Arikli seems to have been left high and dry on Thursday, with the party’s district branch leaders telling Haber Kibris that they had withdrawn the proposal as it was against internal party rules.

The district branch leaders called on Arikli and Atalay to find a compromise, and Arikli’s seeming willingness to cede ground to Atalay and Atalay’s insistence on a leadership election suggests the latter may have the upper hand.

Arikli’s new conciliatory tone is also a marked change in rhetoric than that which he displayed earlier in the campaign when he and Atalay had exchanged verbal blows.

When Atalay announced his candidacy at the end of January, Arikli insisted he “can win under all circumstances”, but said his party “will suffer a big blow” as a result of the leadership challenge.

In response, Atalay asked Arikli “are you the party base which would not be able to handle a party conference?”

Atalay also disclosed that he had considered moving against Arikli earlier, before the north’s municipal elections in December 2022, but that he had been told by Arikli that “Turkey wants us to show a united front.”

“He kept us aligned with him by saying this, but later we realised that it was not Turkey’s request at all, but rather a request from people within our party to Turkey,” he said, adding that this was a “completely massive deception”.

In response, Arikli asked, “who did you talk to in Ankara to come to the conclusion I was deceiving you?”

He then referenced Atalay’s theologian roots and previous career as head of the north’s religious affairs directorate, asking “is it appropriate for a man of God to slander me like this?”

In his own response later on Friday, Atalay said “having a row is Arikli’s style, we will not go around starting rows.”

He added, “a change is needed. If I were party leader, I would realise this. People have lost faith in whether Erhan Arikli is telling the truth or lying. He should fix his mental state.”

The pair have also both called upon each other to drop out of the race.

The consequences of Erhan Arikli potentially being dethroned as leader of the YDP are not yet clear. The party has two seats in the north’s ‘parliament’ and is a member of the three-party ruling coalition with the UBP and the DP.

It is currently unknown as to whether Atalay would wish to also take over Arikli’s role as ‘transport minister’ or possibly renegotiate the coalition agreement in the hope of securing control of a different ‘ministry’.

The coalition currently holds 29 out of 50 seats in ‘parliament’, and as such, it would still have a working majority were the YDP to withdraw.

However, it would leave the largest party the UBP reliant on the votes of the DP to pass legislation, while at the same time, DP leader Fikri Ataoglu is also facing rumblings of disquiet inside his own party.

The next ‘parliamentary’ election in the north is not due to take place until February 2027, though no ‘parliament’ in the north has completed its full five-year term since the 2003 election.

The YDP’s party conference is set to take place on February 17.

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