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    First presidential debate in North Cyprus

    YUSUF KANLI

    By YUSUF KANLI
    First presidential debate in North Cyprus 1

    The world must have been watching the presidential debate in the United States Tuesday evening. At an earlier hour, Turkish Cypriots, not only those on Cyprus but those living in Turkey, United Kingdom, and elsewhere – thanks to the satellite transmission capability – were mostly focused on the first-ever debate ahead of the rescheduled Oct. 11 presidential elections. Five of the leading candidates were on the stage at Genç TV studios, while the sixth one, Prime Minister Ersin Tatar, was the guest of Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay at the Presidential Complex in Ankara.

    First presidential debate in North Cyprus 2

    Tatar was the winner of the night

    Critics claimed that Tatar, who anyhow accepted the invitation for the debate under immense public pressure, used the invitation from Oktay as an alibi to escape the event because he was scared that he would perform badly against the other five. In any case, Tatar returned to North Cyprus later the same night with an additional 117 million Turkish Liras of support to help offset some pandemic-related losses of the Turkish Cypriot private sector. That was, of course, great news for supporters of Tatar as much as it is for the crumbling Turkish Cypriot small businesses who have been demanding urgent government assistance to avoid a meltdown. Though he lost by not attending the debate, his credit success in Ankara made Tatar the winner of the day.

    Akıncı on the defense

    Incumbent Mustafa Akıncı used the debate to send a strong message to Ankara that he has always wanted to develop an “honorable relationship” with Turkey on the grounds of “mutual respect.” He deplored efforts “of some segments in Turkey” for their “manipulative involvement” in the Turkish Cypriot presidential elections in support of a certain (Tatar) candidate. With such actions that run contrary to the notion that Turkish Cypriots have the right and capability of self-government, he warned, were creating divisions in the Turkish Cypriot society, and he was being portrayed as an “enemy of Turkey.”

    Erhürman says dialogue first priority

    Republican Turkish Party (CTP) Leader Tufan Erhürman underlined that channels of dialogue should be kept open, and, if elected, his first task would be to work hard to achieve the resumption of talks as soon as possible, while at the same time order vigilance in works related to the reopening of the deserted Varosha suburb of Famagusta to its former resident Greek Cypriots under the Turkish Cypriot control, pending final settlement. He said immediately after coming to power he would order an end to the military status of Varosha that has been preventing its resettlement.

    He underlined that Turkish Cypriots could no longer waste time with empty talks. Thus, he said through effective diplomacy, the groundwork of new talks or a new five-party international conference must be laid down, and there should be no further waste of time. He stressed in any talk on eastern Mediterranean hydrocarbon resources, Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots are equal partners and must take their equal place at any talk on the issue.

    Özersay stresses need for proactive policy

    People’s Party Leader and Foreign Minister Kudret Özersay said Turkish Cypriots should be able to follow proactive diplomacy and help to shape the Turkish policies regarding the island as well as eastern Mediterranean resources. He said, through dialogue and diplomacy, the Turkish Cypriot state must increase its influence on the policy-making mechanisms in Turkey.

    Özersay stressed that the Turkish Cypriot president should have good working relations and a capability to conduct effective and proactive diplomacy with Turkish leadership so that Turkey’s power in the international forum could be utilized.

    Özersay, the forefather of the Varosha reopening project, said with a vigorous campaign Turkish Cypriot positions must be better explained to the mainland Turkish people. He, as well, suggested that rather than a wholesome resolution of the Cyprus problem, an exercise that so far has always failed, the compartmentalization of the problem might probably be considered.

    Denktaş complains of manipulations

    Like Akıncı, independent candidate Serdar Denktaş complained as well that there was an unjust manipulation from Ankara in the campaign in favor of one candidate, Tatar.

    “Even an invitation extended to one candidate to visit Ankara while we were about to sit in a panel debate here in Cyprus, demonstrates the lack of capacity of one candidate, as well as a manipulative undertaking by Turkey that is not appreciated by the Turkish Cypriot people,” he said.

    He said there is a “heart to heart” relationship between the people of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots, and no bureaucrat should have any intention of disrupting that confidence-based warm relationship.

    Who was the winner of the night?

    Tatar, ending the night with a short trip, and 117 million liras in emergency assistance appeared as the absolute winner of the night. Can that be cashed into vote on Oct. 11? As because of the pandemic, little campaigning was possible and there are still over 40 percent undecided voters, probably the result of the election will be shaped at the second and last debate on the state-owned BRT channel next week. So far, it appears that Tatar and Akıncı are heading to become the contestants in the runoff on Oct. 18.

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