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After the Turkish Cypriot Elections,
a Return to the Negotiating Table?



Ann-Sofi Jakobsson Hatay

Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University, Sweden

TFF Associate

January 28, 2004

On 14 December 2003, the Turkish Cypriots went to the polls to elect new deputies to the unicameral 50-seat legislature of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, TRNC. Political developments, elections and the comings and goings of governments in the non-recognised mini-state (est. population 200,000) tend to go largely unnoticed by the rest of the world, including its Greek Cypriot neighbours (est. 650,000) for whom the overriding concern remains the presence in the Turkish Cypriot-controlled north of a large contingent (est. 35,000) of Turkish troops. The December 2003 elections however took place under unprecedented international attention. The outcome was seen as having the potential to break the impasse of the intercommunal peace process and to enable the accession of a reunited Cyprus to the European Union on 1 May 2004.

The pre-election agenda was dominated by disagreements between government and opposition parties pertaining to the merits of a November 2002 U.N. draft proposal for the island's reunification within the framework of a 'United Cyprus Republic' ('the Annan Plan') and the island's upcoming EU accession. In a separate protocol to the Treaty of Accession (signed by the Greek Cypriot government on 16 April 2003), the application of the acquis in the northern part had been suspended pending a settlement to the conflict. An agreement on political reunification prior to 1 May 2004 would however enable the two communities to accede jointly.

In early March 2003, the Turkish Cypriot chief negotiator, having previously refused to put his signature to a framework agreement containing the main principles of the U.N. proposal, also rejected a personal plea from the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to submit the proposal to a referendum. Backed by the conservative two-party coalition government, he subsequently ruled out further negotiations on the plan's basis. The Greek Cypriot side in the meantime, albeit unwilling to sign the peace proposal as it stood, nevertheless pronounced it acceptable as a point of departure for future negotiations. Against this background, the December elections to the TRNC's Legislative Assembly were destined to become a Turkish Cypriot pre-referendum on the way ahead.

In late 2002 and again in January and February 2003, tens of thousands of Turkish Cypriots had taken part in mass rallies in protest of the rejectionist stance of their leadership. The opposition anticipated the elections as a culmination of a process of popular mobilization for the twin targets of a solution to the conflict and EU accession. They entered the elections highly confident of their ability to oust what they termed the 'statukocular' &endash; the allegedly pro-status quo parties in government. In September 2003, three parties of the self-styled pro-settlement, pro-EU 'peace forces' (CTP-BG, BDH, ÇASP) signed a protocol in which they pledged to oust the chief negotiator, and to resume peace negotiations with a view to reaching an agreement on the basis of the Annan plan by May 2004.

The conservative ruling two-party (UBP-DP) coalition government for their part did not dispute the merits of eventual EU accession. They did however object to what they saw as an international plot to force the Turkish Cypriots to make unacceptable concessions vis-à-vis the Greek Cypriots in order to achieve this prized target. They furthermore shared the chief negotiator's reservations about the U.N. proposal, a position that also earlier in the year had been publicly supported in mass rallies attended by as many, if not more, people than the opposition rallies. Partly to let off some steam ahead of the elections, the government had in late April 2003 presided over a popular move easing the restrictions of movement across the Green Line, enabling thousands of Turkish Cypriots to take up employment in the more affluent southern part of the island and claim their legal rights as co-citizens of the Republic of Cyprus ahead of EU accession (including obtaining the Republic's passports).

The peoples' verdict delivered at the ballot boxes showed however that neither side in the election contest could lay sole claim to be the voice of the people. The elections saw the electorate virtually split down the middle. One of the opposition parties (CTP-BG) emerged as the election's undisputed winner in terms of party support (almost tripling its share of the votes). The government parties lost considerable ground &endash; down from 63 per cent in 1998 to 45.9 per cent in 2003 &endash; but nevertheless held sway. The failure of all but the four main parties to pass the required five per cent electoral threshold moreover resulted in a hung parliament, with the parties of opposition (CTP-BG) and government (UBP-DP) gaining an equal number of assembly seats (25&endash;25).

Overall the opposition (CTP-BG, BDH, ÇABP) attracted 50.3 per cent of the votes as against the ruling UBP-DP coalition's 45.9 per cent. Given that the remaining parties (MBP, KAP), had rallied behind the government's stance, the opposition's lead was however less than one percentage point: 50.3 per cent as against 49.7 per cent.

Having been given the mandate to seek to form a government, the leader of the largest party CTP-BG had to turn to the former government parties in order to secure sufficient parliamentary support. On 11 January a CTP-BG&endash;DP coalition (mustering 26 seats in between them) for 'national reconciliation and settlement [of the Cyprus problem]' was announced. The parties agreed on a programme that included the resumption of inter-communal peace talks on the basis of the Annan Plan. The new government's programme was rapidly endorsed by Ankara, followed by assurances of Turkey's own commitment to contribute to a 'just and lasting' and 'rapid' settlement to the conflict.


Debates about the U.N. proposal dominated the heated election campaign. If the elections indeed had been a referendum 'yes' would have prevailed over 'no', albeit with a very narrow margin: 50.3 per cent of the votes went to 'pro-Annan' parties as against 49.7 per cent for the 'antis'. The results indicate that the Turkish Cypriot electorate is deeply divided on the merits of the Annan plan.

A closer analysis of the results gives in a more complex picture, however, one that should caution against seeing the elections solely as the Turkish Cypriots' verdict on the Annan Plan. The last years have inflicted repeated hardships on the Turkish Cypriot community in general, not the least economic. The Turkish Cypriot economy is linked to the Turkish lira, a situation which renders it vulnerable to fluctuations of its value. Shock devaluations of the lira meant that about half of its value was lost. Added to the loss suffered by devaluation were a series of crashes in the private bank sector. The vote for the opposition did also contain an element of protest against the ruling coalition who has presided over a situation that is becoming increasingly intolerable. The Turkish Cypriot support for the Annan Plan may thus be lower than indicated by the election results.

Irrespective of that, however, one important message that emerges from the December 2003 elections is that a large section of the Turkish Cypriot community needs to be persuaded of the merits of the Annan plan. From a Turkish Cypriot point of view, one major issue that needs to be addressed by third parties in the months ahead concerns the consequences of provisions for territorial adjustment and the reinstatement of property to Greek Cypriot owners in the Turkish Cypriot constituent state of the proposed United Cyprus Republic.

According to U.N. estimates, 47.000 Turkish Cypriots would have to relocate as a result of transfer of currently Turkish Cypriot controlled territory to the Greek Cypriot constituent state and another 20.000 within a fifteen-year period as a result of reinstatement property. The total cost of the relocation and rehabilitation of the affected Turkish Cypriot population has been estimated to USD.

The US, EU and others interested parties have pledged to convene a donors' conference in support of a reunification process but there are to date no guarantees that this money will be forthcoming. Pre-peace agreement pledges frequently turn out to yield considerably less than promised. Failure to deliver may jeopardize the peace in Cyprus as it has in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

Firmer commitments and some tangible action from donors in the coming months will most likely be necessary to secure a yes vote in a future referendum and to smooth what will be a most difficult transition process for a large section of the Turkish Cypriot community. In addition, there are of course also Greek Cypriot concerns that may jeopardize the prospect of public endorsement of the U.N. proposal, and which may also require financial support from third parties.


With the Turkish Cypriot change of government after the December 2003 elections there now exists an expressed willingness by both sides to re-engage in negotiations - albeit not (yet) settlement - on the basis of the Annan Plan. If they can provide U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan 'with a solid reason to believe that the political will exists necessary for a successful outcome', as he wrote in his 1 April 2004 report to the Security Council on the mission of his good offices, an invitation to reconvene will most likely be forthcoming.

But even if the parties would re-enter the negotiations, this time with the Annan Plan as a common point of departure, a number of hurdles need to be overcome in order to secure an agreement. There is today very little common ground between the parties regarding a number of important issues. The Annan Plan, importantly, was not a product that had emerged from negotiations between the parties themselves. Although of course it contains elements of a settlement that have been on the table for some time and reflected an attempt to balance the concerns and priorities of both sides, it was nevertheless a third party proposal drafted by the U.N. with input from other interested parties and stakeholders.

The Greek Cypriots' reservations about the Turkish Cypriot minority's influence in the proposed 'United Cyprus Republic', couched in terms reminiscent of the early 1960s as concerns for its 'functionality' and 'viability' are well known, as is their opposition to the legalization of the status of Turkish immigrants on the island and the reluctance to accept nothing but the return to the north of all refugees. The Greek Cypriot will also seek a speedy withdrawal of Turkish troops from the island.

The Turkish Cypriot for their part will press for recognition of their status as equal co-founders of 'the new state of affairs' and commensurate influence. The preservation of bi-zonality with its concomitant restrictions on the right to return and Greek Cypriot political influence in the Turkish Cypriot constituent state are also key concerns. The Turkish Cypriots will also want to secure Turkish guarantor rights for Cyprus as a whole, including the presence of Turkish troops in the Turkish Cypriot constituent state. Thus it is clear that the two sides will seek to 'improve' the plan in directions which are incompatible.

After the Turkish Cypriot change of government, there is however nevertheless from both sides today an expressed ambition, albeit qualified, to seek to achieve a settlement prior to the critical date of 1 May 2004 when Cyprus formally accedes to the European Union. The European Union for its part has expressed a willingness to accommodate any settlement reached by their parties but it is a generally agreed that it will be much more difficult to do so post-1 May. This of course, is a problem primarily for the Turkish Cypriots who hence has an added motivation to achieve a 'rapid' settlement. It is doubtful however whether the same can be said for the Greek Cypriots who post-1 May will be in possession of additional leverage vis-à-vis the Turkish Cypriots and, perhaps more importantly, Turkey.

Turkey may also be reluctant to finalize a deal before her own accession course is on more secure ground. As the next anticipated step is the determination of a date for the initiation of accession negotiation, a settlement prior to May might thus from a Turkish vantage point seem premature. A review of Turkey's EU bid, on which Cyprus as a new member will have a say, is due in December 2004.

The fact that both sides in the dispute have good reasons to avoid having to shoulder any blame for failing to bring the peace process forward for the time being (for the Greek Cypriots until May and for the Turkish Cypriots until October when the report to the EU Commission ahead of the is December review is due) may help to get the peace process moving again. But as always in the case of Cyprus, where twenty-five years of peace talks have yielded precious little result, one would do well to leave open the question whether they this time will be brought to a successful conclusion and secure a mutually acceptable settlement to this longstanding conflict. In the meantime, after the Turkish Cypriot elections on 14 December 2003 and the subsequent adoption of pro-settlement policies both by the new government in Lefkosha and in Ankara, there is now at least a rhetorical commitment to seek a swift settlement from all parties in the conflict.


The Annan Plan is available at

An abbreviated citizen's guide has been published and is available at


© TFF & the author 2004  



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