This article was published after the 2010 elections. It points to basic 
characteristics of the relation between Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots.

The explicit or symbolic favour of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and other western governments, as well as that of Ankara, to Mehmet Ali Talat’s re-election to the leadership of the Turkish Cypriots, in 2010, proved ineffective; veteran politician Derviş Eroğlu continued his 2008 triumphant return to the political scene, winning the election in the first round. Beyond ethical questions, external support in disregard of the will of the voters has also shown the extent to which the international community generally ignored or misunderstood vote and choice processes. In the particular case, the negative symbolic value and the boomerang effect of external support or ‘foreign interference’ might have heavily outweighed benefit, if any. More importantly, Ankara’s failure to influence the outcome showed that views about the kind and extent of her command on northern Cyprus are often surrounded by myths. This applies also to perceptions about positions and the role of different groups of voters.

Failure of external support to Talat and inefficiency of his campaign can only be understood if seen in a long-term perspective, and be connected with both the context and his policies and action. The  hopes  invested  in  2004  and  2005  in the  Republican  Turkish  Party  (Cumhuriyetçi  Türk  Partisi –CTP) and  Talat himself ignored three crucial factors:

  1. In general, following  the softening  of the  dividing  line  (April  2003),  the  rejection  by  Greek  Cypriots  of  the  Annan Plan  (April  2004)  and  the  subsequent  accession  to  the  European  Union,  was not favourable for pro-solution efforts. In particular, the momentum created by massive  Turkish  Cypriot  mobilisation  in  2002  and  2003  and  expectations thereof  were  replaced  by  a  (new)  negative  climate  and  revival  of  feelings  of distrust or  bitterness between the two  communities; thus, hopes  had already fainted  and  the  aspirations  of  large  parts  of  people  shifted  towards  silent  or open  acceptance  of  the de  facto division; 
  2. The  power  of  the  new  leader  to respond  effectively  to  the  hopes  of  the  pro-solution  and  pro-European  Union forces,  which  had  already  lost  much  of  their  strength  and  aspiration,  was questionable for more than one reasons. As a community, and no more a party leader he failed to respond to the expectations of his supporting groups, which partly  alienated  them; 
  3. Ankara’s  power  on  the  new  leader  could  be  more effective  than  before,  since  the  latter  lacked  the  connections  with  the  Deep State  and  the  potential  of  his  predecessor  Rauf  Denktaş  to  defy  the  Turkish Government’s  guidance.  This  limited  more  Talat’s  manoeuvre  margin  and increased  the  distance  between  his  policies  and  the  aspirations  of  those  that had  invested  in  him.  Stressed  relations  with  the  Greek  Cypriots  during  that period benefited an even stronger influence of Ankara.

All the above, along with the policies followed by Mehmet Ali Talat in economy and other sectors, blamed as too partisan and in some cases as arbitrary, had their  impact  on  the  voters;  the  effects  were  long-term  and  structural,  they could not be easily reversed. Christofias’ election in 2008 came rather too late and  the  long  course  of  negotiations  engaged  by  the  too  leaders  could  not revert the course of developments. How did the above and other factors reflect on choices and behaviour of different groups?

Despite the general view among Greek Cypriots that Eroğlu’s win was due to massive  vote  by  settlers  from  Turkey,  the  results  show  that  he  won  the majority  among  all  groups.  Only  the  town  of  Nicosia  and  suburbs  gave  Talat the  lead  but  not  the  majority.  This is  the  area  where  most  Denktaş’s supporters shifted in 2003 their vote to become the most dynamic pro-solution and change group.

Interestingly  also,  traditional  Turkish  Cypriot  communities,  that  had had little or no contact with Greek Cypriots appear almost equally divided between the two candidates, while those displaced from the south in 1974 deserted Talat in larger numbers, giving Eroğlu 50% (Talat 44%). Their 2004-05 overwhelming support  for  a  solution  in  spite  of  the  fact  that  they  were  to  change  again residence  in  case  of  a  settlement  has  evaporated;  they  might  have  been disappointed  by developments  or  their aspirations  changed  in  the  new  post-2003-2004 context of no solution.

Thus, Turkish Cypriots reverted in bigger numbers to Eroğlu, while settlers continuing  their  crushing  support  to  conservative  candidates  gave  him  64%.

The new element is that Talat’s share in 2005 and 2010 (32%, 27.6%) shows a  breakthrough  in  this  group,  from  which  left  wing  parties  and  candidates could  hardly  get  more  than  15%.  This  change  might  be  partly  due   to  the exercise of power by CTP and Talat. However, while the critical mass of settlers vote  can  decide  close  to  call  contests  in  favour  of  conservatives,  the  vote break-down  over  the  years  does  not  justify  claims  that  National  Unity  Party’s (Ulusal Birlik Partisi -UBP) or Denktaş’s / Eroğlu’s superiority rely exclusively on them. They have been almost consistently voted by the majority of Turkish Cypriots as well.

Similarly,  the  failure  of  predictions  that  Ankara’s  influence  could  revert  the trend  in  favour  of  Talat  raises  a  more  specific  question  about  Turkey’s  power and  role  in  north  Cyprus.  While  cases  of  corruption,  influences  by  military  or others  have  been  recorded in  the  past,  there  is  again  an  exaggeration  about the potential of such practices. Turkey’s role and influence can be decisive on higher  levels  of  politics,  not  on  that  of  groups  or  society.  For  example,  there are  questions  related  to  the  fact  that  UBP’s  history  is  one  of  continuous dissensions  and  splits,  affecting  its  ambitions  to  dominate  politics.  Other phenomena  such  as  the  collapse  of  coalitions  following  Ankara’s  interference, such  as  in  2001,  or  the  delay  of  funds   transfer  to  feed  the  budget  show  the various forms of measures that can influence politics in this part of the island.

The  ultimate question, which is relevant also to Eroğlu’s policies, is, to what extent  can  one  expect  decisions  that  deviate  from  Turkey’s  will?  Given  the total  security  dependence  on  the  Turkish  Army  and  budget  large  dependence on  funds  from  Ankara,  the  only  possible  alternative  for  any  Turkish  Cypriot leader could be to rely on society forces. How strong, though, can these forces be  if  the  voters  are  largely  divided  into  two  camps  and  large  parts  are disillusioned about prospects for a better future?