What Impact Will Northern Cyprus Election Results Have on the Peace Process?

Over the weekend, right-wing nationalist Ersin Tatar won the presidential election in Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus. Tatar, who won 52 percent of the vote on Sunday, has made it clear that he wants to ensure that Cyprus remains divided.

His rival and predecessor, Mustafa Akinci, sought reunification with the Greek part of the island. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who supported Tatar during his election campaign, congratulated him on his victory.

Sunday was the second round of the presidential election, after Tatar secured 32 percent of the vote in the first round on October 11, while Akinci won almost 30 percent.

Tatar’s Victory is a Blow to the Cypriot Peace Process

UN Secretary General António Guterres had wanted to resume peace talks in the coming months, but these upcoming discussions might not even happen now that reunification no longer seems like an option.

Turkey was instrumental in ensuring that Tatar won both rounds of northern Cyprus’s election. For example, they helped Tatar orchestrate the opening of the once fabled beachfront of Varosha last week. Part of the sealed-off area of Famagusta deserted by Greek Cypriots when Turkish forces invaded in 1974, it has been off-limits ever since and is a component of negotiations.

Critics decried what they viewed as a political stunt intended to improve Tatar’s poll ratings, and Akinci described the move as a stain on democracy. But the move also demonstrates that Erdoğan has no interest in reunifying Cyprus either.

Turkey has Continuously Thwarted the Cyprus Peace Process

The current northern Cypriot President was also able to depend upon the support of Ankara and Turkish settlers who arrived in the northern part of the island from the Turkish mainland. The influx has transformed the north’s demographic makeup and contributed toward a growing sense of Islamization in northern Cyprus. If Tatar were to betray his base of support in the future, this would have devastating electoral consequences for him, which is why he will remain firm in his determination to keep Cyprus divided during his term of office.

The last time Cyprus came close to peace was in 2017 when a peace process was led by the President of the island’s internationally recognized and Greek-administered south Nicos Anastasiades and Akinci. It had been viewed as the most promising process in decades to end the conflict. However, talks collapsed in Crans Montana, Switzerland, in July 2017.

Anastasiades declared that the 2017 talks failed because of Turkey’s “inflexible stance and insistence” on maintaining the Treaty of Guarantee (which the UK, Greece, Turkey and Cyprus signed in 1960 to guarantee the island’s status as a republic), as well as a permanent presence of troops.

It’s Time for the US to Intervene in the Peace Process

Even though both Anastasiades and Guterres declared last month that they hoped that the negotiations would start again this year, both of them claimed that Turkey intended to preserve the two-state solution before talks even started. Thanks to Tatar’s victory, Erdoğan will no doubt interpret this event as justification for his stance toward the island.

Either way, it is time for the US to become more involved in Cyprus’s peace process. They could help modernize Cyprus’s military forces and participate in its energy sector. Washington’s presence would be able to counter Moscow and Ankara in the island. In 2021, the US should make it its priority to ensure that both Turkish and Greek Cypriots receive the same rights, and that both the Turkish and Greek governments uphold them. This would help ensure that the division of Cyprus ends in the long-term.

Northern Cyprus’s recent election is a short-term blow to the Cypriot peace process, but hope is not lost if the US starts to intervene in the island’s affairs more. It is the only option the UN and the EU have left considering they have both failed miserably to secure a long lasting agreement all this time.