This year is a presidential election year. Cypriot presidential election year, that is, with the first round taking place this Sunday.
There are three major candidates: incumbent Tassos Papadopoulos – backed by his centrist party, DIKO, socialist EDEK, right-wing EVROKO and the ecologists; the communist Dimitris Christofias; and the conservative Ioannis Cassoulides.
So far, the polls have shown that no candidate will win outright in the first round, and that, indeed, the race is so close that it is impossible to be sure which two candidates will go forward to the run-off the following Sunday.
Nevertheless, a fair summary of the latest polls indicate that Papadopoulos will obtain some 34% of the vote, Christofias 32% and Cassoulides 30%, eliminating Cassoulides.
As for polls regarding a Papadopoulos-Christofias run-off, again these are too close to call – some indicate Christofias barely ahead, others indicate Papadopoulos with a marginal advantage – with much depending on who the leadership of conservative DISY will advise its supporters to vote for – their long-time ideological adversary, the communist Christofias, or Papadopoulos, whose policies on the Cyprus problem the conservatives have bitterly opposed for the last five years.
Indeed, given that there is a general consensus among the three candidates regarding Cyprus’ society and economy, both of which are relatively successful, what divides the three is their approach to the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus and the threat of the island’s permanent partition.
The communist Christofias, despite his AKEL party having been part of Papadopoulos’ coalition government until last August, insists that Papadopoulos is an inflexible leader with poor judgement who has isolated Cyprus internationally and allowed the Greek Cypriots to go from being perceived as victims of invasion and occupation to perpetrators of their own downfall.
Christofias has also portrayed himself as having good relations with the Turkish Cypriot minority and its leadership and argued that this will prove decisive in creating the appropriate climate for reunifying the island.
Cassoulides and DISY, meanwhile, are even more adamant that Papadopoulos has mishandled the national issue and insist he has taken Cyprus to the brink of permanent partition, drawing attention to what they believe is the creeping recognition of Turkey’s puppet regime in occupied Cyprus – the so-called ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’.
Cassoulides, an MEP whose party is an integral component of the European People’s Party, the alliance of conservative parties in the EU, has also said that he will use his links in Europe to restore Cyprus’ credibility and encourage the EU to play a more dynamic role in helping end the Turkish occupation of the island.
As for Papadopoulos, he rejects Christofias’ notion that the Cyprus problem is one of bad relations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots and asserts that it is not the Turkish Cypriots and their leaders who decide Turkish policy on Cyprus, but the government in Ankara and the Turkish military. Good relations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, while desirable, Papadopoulos argues, are largely irrelevant.
Papadopoulos also denies that Cyprus has lost allies during his presidency and insists that he is the only one of the three candidates able to resist another Annan-type plan being forced on Greek Cypriots by foreign powers as a solution to the Cyprus problem – Cassoulides supported the discredited Annan plan in 2004, Christofias only just rejected it, while Papadopoulos led the campaign against it.
Whatever the final outcome of the elections on 24 February, it is clear that there will be increased activity this year aimed at resolving the Cyprus problem. This isn’t because the international community is bothered by the unfortunate fate of the Greek and Turkish Cypriots and wishes to help construct a better future for them; but because in 2009 the EU is due to deliver a report on Turkey’s progress towards EU membership.
Turkey’s failure to normalise relations with the Republic of Cyprus – which Turkey doesn’t recognise – and extend the Customs Union it signed with the EU in 1995 to Cyprus, which joined the EU in 2004, will likely see Turkey’s EU candidature unravel to the point of collapse – something which Turkey’s most ardent Western supporters – the UK and the USA – are determined to avoid.
Not that Turkey is taking the looming crisis in its EU candidature as motivation to act reasonably and end its 34-year occupation of northern Cyprus. Rather, Ankara has been making it clear that its inclination in any rejuvenated peace process this year will be to collapse the talks.
Thus Turkey will insist on the revival of the 2004 Annan plan – which satisfied most of Turkey’s demands on Cyprus – in the knowledge that no Greek Cypriot leader will accept it – in a referendum Greek Cypriots rejected the Annan plan by 76% – which would then allow Turkey to claim there is not enough common ground among the parties to reunify Cyprus and other solutions must be found; solutions which recognise the facts on the ground, those created by Turkey’s invasion and occupation, two separate states, ethnically pure, one Greek, one Turkish, going their own ways, by agreement if possible – like the Czech Republic and Slovakia – or by the application of realpolitik – as in the case of Kosovo and Serbia. Either way, the outcome for Cyprus will be the same: partition.
As long as Turkey’s policy on Cyprus is – as it has been for the last 50 years – partition, then the winner of the presidential elections on the island this month is largely irrelevant. It is Turkey, the occupying power, which holds the key to reunifying the island, not the president of Cyprus.