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    Here’s what I think: The 15th November, Maraş, and government

    It’s been just over a week since 15th November, and I left it this long on purpose to put pen to paper in order to allow things to develop, and to write a more educated and (in my opinion at least) higher quality column. The significance of 15th November, for those unaware, is that it is the anniversary of Northern Cyprus’ declaration of independence, and is therefore high time for parades and political manoeuvring. This year, with the day coming just a month after nationalist Ersin Tatar’s victory in the presidential elections, the day was more spectacular than most, and all the stops were pulled out, as I’m about to discuss.

    Here's what I think: The 15th November, Maraş, and government 1
    Tom Cleaver

    The focal point of the celebrations was Maraş (Varosha), the section of Famagusta formerly the beating heart of the city and Cyprus’ tourism industry, but abandoned from 1974 until last month. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was invited to a picnic on the beach – a move which was supposed to be a show of Tatar’s political power. However, this is not quite the end result we have been left with, for multiple reasons, as I’m about to explain.

    First of all, I don’t think anyone would argue that Maraş should have stayed closed forever – the question was under what circumstances it should be opened. Due to Maraş’ unique status as a completely abandoned district, and one that in the past was so financially valuable to Cyprus, it was always going to be a special case, and one to be handled with care – and care is what I believe Ersin Tatar has lacked over Maraş. It feels to me like this has all been done the wrong way around – the pre-1974 residents should have been allowed to claim and do what they wish with what was theirs, then the district should have been renovated, and only then should it have been opened to the world’s tourists and heads of state.

    Doing things in the opposite order has left a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of people, and really missed the mark on what could and probably should have been a moment of great triumph for any Turkish Cypriot leader. The left, who were grasping at thin air in the aftermath of the elections, now have a stick with which to beat Tatar whenever they please, given the perceived crassness of the situation thanks to the history of the place, and the nature of it being a “vanity project” during a time of real economic hardship.

    Tatar seemingly burnt one too many bridges

    In terms of governance, too, the opening of Maraş has caused problems for Tatar’s party, UBP. Their coalition partners, HP, pulled out of the government on the eve of the presidential elections, as they saw the opening of Maraş as electioneering on Tatar’s part. This left UBP without a majority in parliament, and since then they have struggled. Tatar’s election as President meant that UBP needed a new leader, but the leadership elections were called off after the first round due to fears of division within the party. Ersan Saner was installed as temporary leader with leadership elections rescheduled for next September, and tasked with finding a majority from somewhere.

    The problem was that Tatar had seemingly burnt one too many bridges. UBP has good relations with DP and YDP, but after Tatar ceased to be an MP and Serdar Denktaş left DP, even a UBP-DP-YDP coalition would not be able to command a majority. CTP and TDP, both left leaning parties, were obviously out of the picture, which meant that any UBP government would have to entail a return of HP. Despite Saner’s best efforts, HP were unwilling to rejoin the government, and as of yesterday they ran out of time, and the responsibility to form the next government has fallen to CTP.

    While it is a long shot, CTP may fare better than UBP in forming a government with parliamentary arithmetic as it currently is. If Tufan Erhürman can persuade HP to enter into a coalition government with him, then with the near-certain addition of TDP and potentially Serdar Denktaş, they would be able to govern by the skin of their teeth. Erhürman may even have the upper hand in negotiations, too. If he cannot form a government, parliamentary elections will be called, and both HP and Denktaş know that at this point elections would end most of their careers.

    I would imagine that UBP members would be quietly furious

    I would imagine that UBP members would be quietly furious at Ersin Tatar for allowing this set of circumstances to unfold – that his actions aimed at winning himself the presidency have potentially handed control of the government back to the left within a month of the election. UBP know from experience how easy it can be to isolate a President, and though a CTP-HP-TDP government wouldn’t have as many friends abroad as the last government, it could still go a long way to shutting the door on Ersin Tatar and UBP’s plans for the forseeable future.

    In this case, Tatar’s saving grace may be his friends abroad. A visibly close relationship with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was on display last week, and holding him close may be what allows Tatar to be as effective as possible even if his party is weakened. Turkish television reported last week that as many as five countries (Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Libya, and the Gambia) may be ready to recognise Northern Cyprus’ statehood in 2021. To be frank, I’ll believe it when I see it, and pinning his hopes on this would be very risky for Tatar.

    All five countries have their own internal politics and unique push and pull factors, and given that in 37 years Northern Cyprus only won the official recognition of one other state, believing that five more could come in twelve months could be setting oneself up for disappointment, and disappointment that will land squarely at the feet of Ersin Tatar.

    In conclusion, although it may have been the opening of Maraş that carried Ersin Tatar to the presidency, it may also turn out to be his undoing in the long run. His honeymoon period as leader may be rapidly coming to an end already, which with five years ahead of him may be worrying if he cannot get another break of good fortune. That good fortune, however, may just be out of reach.

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