Nicosia, Cyprus (AFP):
Turkiye’s veteran leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan is tipped as the frontrunner in the runoff election, seen as crucial for his country but also important for the island of Cyprus that has been divided between Turkiye and Greece for almost half a century.
Conservative Erdogan is heading into the second-round vote after beating his secular leftist challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu two weeks earlier but failing to win an outright majority.
In the first round, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) bucked the mainland trend, strongly favouring Kilicdaroglu with 53.5 percent of the vote against 39.4 percent for Erdogan.
“There will be changes here only if Kemal Kilicdaroglu wins,” said Necmi Belge, a 70-year-old Turkish Cypriot retiree with Turkish citizenship, who said he voted against Erdogan.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when the Turkish army intervened to defend against a coup that had sought to unite the entire island with Greece.
A UN-patrolled “Green Line”, secured with razor wire and sandbags, has since cut across the Mediterranean island that is located south of Turkiye’s coast.
Repeated rounds of UN-led talks have failed to reunite the Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus in the south and the Turkish-speaking northern state. While the former has been given EU membership, the latter only has recognition from Turkiye.
Erdogan has argued the island should be formally split into two separate states. However, this has been strongly rejected by the south and the international community which favours a bi-zonal or bi-communal federation.
Although Kilicdaroglu has said little on the Cyprus question, many observers believe a change at the top in Ankara would offer the best hope to jumpstart efforts for the reunification of Cyprus.
Nazif Bozatli, a TRNC representative of Kilicdaroglu’s CHP party, said that “Erdogan’s two-state solution … is not realistic”, as he cast his ballot in a gym in the divided capital Nicosia.
He added that “we want a mutual federation with mutual respect”.
Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides has been watching the Turkish elections “very closely”, said Ioannis Ioannous, a Greek Cypriot analyst at think-tank Geopolitical Cyprus.
“If Kilicdaroglu wins… the EU will play a more active role” in mediation between the two sides, Ioannous said, “and we will have a realistic chance to return to the negotiating table”.
Nearly 144,000 voters are registered in northern Cyprus, including Turkish settlers and troops and Turkish Cypriots who hold Turkish citizenship.
The people of northern Cyprus face a dilemma, said another voter, Yonca Ozdemir, a 50-year-old woman who has lived on the island for 16 years.
“The TRNC is very linked to Turkiye,” she said. “Everything that happens there has an immediate impact on us.” But while many Turkish Cypriots favour reunification, she said, “we need Turkiye’s approval for this”.
Kemal Baykalli, founder of the activist group Unite Cyprus Now, said that, for peace talks to resume, Turkiye’s next president would first have to restore “good relations” with the European Union.
“If the opposition is elected… I think they would need to reevaluate the decisions of Erdogan on the two-state solution,” he said.
“But they will also need to set up a more open and respectful relationship with the Turkish Cypriots.”