Anatomy of a crisis in Northern Cyprus

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Private Jet crisis

YUSUF KANLI

Northern Cyprus has been sailing through a government crisis for some time over a private jet that discreetly carried some Turkish businessmen and three escort ladies to the island in contravention of COVID-19 measures.

News that a Turkish tourism investor was allowed by the tourism minister to secretly come onboard a private jet, allowed to play in a casino and visit a jeweler in Famagusta at a time when Turkish Cypriots working in the Greek Cypriot sector were not allowed to return home unless they agreed to 14 days of quarantine (or worse, those living in Pile village in the British base region were asked not to cross the checkpoint into Turkish areas or they would have to be taken into quarantine) landed like a nuclear bomb on the population.

The junior partner in the ruling coalition, People’s Party (HP), demanded the premier take action against Tourism Minister Ünal Üstel, threatening to withdraw from the government otherwise. In a small population in which there are tight relations between most of the political actors, walking such a road was very problematic, particularly when the prime minister has difficulty in fully controlling the party.

Deeming the time opportune for the ministerial ambitions of his daughter Resmiye Canaltay amid his attempts to maintain his strong influence in the party, former party leader and ex-President Derviş Eroğlu spared no time in reminding the premier that he had originally promised the tourism portfolio to his daughter in the formation of the two-way coalition. Besides, if Üstel was to be sacked, his group in the party believed their comrade Aytaç Caluda must enter the cabinet. The premier decided to replace Labor Minister Faiz Sucuoğlu with Caluda. However, Caluda was under investigation over some alleged wrongdoings at the Labor Ministry, so his proposed appointment was vetoed by President Mustafa Akıncı.

While the prime minister could not satisfy either the former president or Üstel’s group, he came out of the crisis with even a bigger crisis with Sucuoğlu, a former chairmanship contender in the ruling party who has vowed to be a candidate in an extraordinary party convention his supporters might force. As Prime Minister Ersin Tatar was one of the leading contenders for the presidential election – which was postponed in April for Oct. 11 because of the COVID-19 pandemic – developments might have a very strong impact on his election chances if he can indeed survive the onslaught and remain a presidential candidate in the first place.

Can Tatar’s National Unity Party (UBP) survive this latest crisis – which stems not just from the jet incident but includes frustration with the decades of alleged corruption and nepotism in Northern Cyprus’ right-wing politics? The left, for what it’s worth, has proven already that it is no different as last evidenced by the “Varyant Ahmet saga.”

With the secretary-general of the UBP and some deputies splitting (thanks to some foreign financing) from the two conservative parties, the Reform and Democracy Party (ÖRP) was established in 2005, resulting in the coalition government of the socialist Republican Turks’ Party (CTP) and the Democrat Party (DP) giving way to a CTP-ÖRP coalition. Just before the consequent early elections, a CTP minister of that coalition government leased a precious lot in the Yenierenköy area to Ahmet “Varyant” Özçağ at a negligible price, violating the election law. A while later, in the election campaign, the DP revealed the corrupt deal and asked it to take legal action against Varyant Ahmet, as well as the corrupt minister. One need hardly explain that the CTP lost the election badly and has never come first again since.

No early election appears to be on the horizon in Northern Cyprus for now, and the first election appears will be the presidential one in October or August, if Akıncı manages to convince parties to hold earlier polls. But, who knows, if the crisis continues to deepen, an early parliamentary election might just appear out of the blue.

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