Election Ends in Tie
The landmark elections in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus proved to be a close race between supporters and opponents of reunification with the island's Greek half. Turnout was estimated to be around 85 percent.
Landing some 48 percent of the vote, opposition parties including the pro-reunification Republican Turkish party (CTP) had a three percent edge on the two parties supporting President Rauf Denktash, who opposes the U.N. peace plan to end the island's partition.
The vote, which is so far inconclusive, has broad implications for both Cyprus and Turkey.
An opportunity for EU membership
The poll, which is recognized only by Turkey, was seen as a referendum on Rauf Denktash's rejection of the U.N. plan to reunify the island's Greek and Turkish republics, after some thirty years of separation. Cyprus has been split along ethnic lines since 1974, when Turkey invaded following a Greek Cypriot coup, backed by the government in Athens.
Were the island to unify, it stands a chance of joining the EU as a single State in May 2004. So far, it has looked like only the Greek Cypriot part of the island will be joining.
The question of EU membership was a pivotal issue in the CTP's election campaign, and leader Mehmet Ali Talat responded to Sunday's poll saying "The trend is towards finding a solution to the Cypriot problem and towards the EU. More than half our population want to reach a solution and join the EU."
While complex voting regulations mean both parties are now set to land 25 seats each in parliament, Talat dismissed the possibility of a coalition with pro-Denktash parties. The opposition alliance has also said it's keen to replace Rauf Dentah as Turkish Cypriot negotiator with the U.N., even though he will be remaining president.
Turkey's accession talks in balance
According to the Turkish Anatolian news agency, outgoing Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister Dervis Eroglu has pointed out that an absence of a parliamentary majority will necessitate fresh elections, saying "if the parties cannot agree on forming a government there will be have to new elections in three months time."
The two factions' reluctance to compromise will be bad news for Ankara. Without a settlement on Cyprus, Turkey will be seen as occupying EU territory when the Greek half joins next May. Brussels has told Turkey that the country's eagerly awaited accession talks won't be taking place if Turkish Cypriots fail to reach an agreement based on the U.N. plan, which foresees a single State, but with broad autonomy for both communities on the divided island.
The UN tabled its peace plan in November 2002, with the EU inviting Cyprus to become a member soon afterwards. Initial hopes that the island might join as a united State were dashed when leaders of the Turkish and Greek communities failed to agree to the U.N. plan by the March 2003 deadline.
Sunday's deadlock suggests that at this point, nothing will be changing. Speaking at a news conference on Monday, Rauf Denktash reiterated that "if they can't form a government within two months, we will have to go to a new election" -- a delay that means Cyprus will enter the EU divided in May. But he urged both supporters and opponents of reunification plans to establish a "national government" of unity, stressing that "the best thing would be for (the parties) to come together to form a national government."
© Deutsche Welle / DW-WORLD.DE 2003