May 26 was an exceptional election day on Cyprus. For the first time, a Turkish Cypriot was running on the candidates’ list of a Greek Cypriot political party. Would he be elected? What would his election mean?
Niyazi Kızılyürek has always been a controversial figure for most Turkish Cypriots. He was among a handful of Turkish Cypriots who preferred to remain in the Greek Cypriot territory while almost the entire southern Turkish Cypriot population moved and settled in North Cyprus through a 1975 U.N.-arranged migration deal. He has been a supporter of the socialist Greek Cypriot Progressive Party of Working People (Akel) as well as the socialist Turkish Cypriot Republican Turks’ Party (CTP) – which indeed is often branded as a Turkish Cypriot extension of Akel. As a writer of CTP’s Yeni Düzen (New Order) daily newspaper, he was rather infamous among the over 65 percent conservative and nationalist Turkish Cypriots.
His candidacy was perceived by nationalist Turkish Cypriots as a natural consequence of his acute Stockholm Syndrome. In the past, together with the CTP (and Akel), Kızılyürek was an ardent opponent of Turkish Cypriots running as candidates in Greek Cypriot elections. He was saying that under the 1960 system, Turkish and Greek Cypriots were having separate elections and Turks joining Greek Cypriot polls as candidates or going and voting there was an erosion of communal rights. Of course, he was not a candidate and was able to see the reality during that time. Yet, when Akel, with the intention of rendering Turkish Cypriots a minority and providing the Cyprus problem a resolution based on total ignorance of communal rights but the institution of individual rights for Turkish Cypriots as well, Kızılyürek jumped on the bandwagon.
Could he represent Turkish Cypriots?
If, as reported by the Greek Cypriot electoral board, only 5,600 Turkish Cypriots – representing less than three percent of the registered 200,000 eligible Turkish Cypriot voters – obviously Kızılyürek cannot represent the Turkish Cypriot people as he was elected mostly by Greek Cypriot votes. Also, even though he might be the first ethnic Turkish Cypriot to get elected to the European legislature, he did not become a candidate under the established rules of the 1960 system, and thus can only represent the electorate that voted for him.
Could his election change the political climate?
Most probably Turkish Cypriot leftist parties that supported Kızılyürek’s candidacy, but managed to send only 5,600 people to the ballot box, will try to capitulate on this “success” as an indicator of the “strong will” in support of a federal resolution of the Cyprus problem. Kızılyürek himself vowed before the election that he would be the representative of federal resolution supporters. The government in North Cyprus that even publicly asked federalist President Mustafa Akıncı to adjust himself to the “new political reality” might be said that Kızılyürek will have far limited access to North Cyprus. During the election campaign period Kızılyürek’s huge billboards were decorating many highways. Particularly one was placed across the headquarters of the Turkish Cypriot security forces. That move, obviously aimed at humiliating Turkish Cypriot nationalists on the one hand, boost a number of people who might go to the ballot box. Both apparently failed though no none can deny the serious uneasiness those ads produced in the conservative groups.
At the end of the day perhaps conservative and nationalist Turkish Cypriots might end up thanking Akel of providing them with a very effective political tool. Already Greek Cypriot conservatives have started pointing at the very same potential “dangerous” situation. If, on May 26, some 5,600 Turkish Cypriots participated in the European Parliament election organized by the Greek Cypriot state and if according to the Greek Cypriot electoral board of the overall 200,000 eligible Turkish Cypriot voters there were at least 80,000 registered in the Greek Cypriot side as well, what if Turkish Cypriots decided to vote in the presidential vote there? If, particularly, the difference between the loser and the winner has always been a few percentage points, such an eventuality might mean the Turkish Cypriot electorate capturing the ultimate decider status in the Greek Cypriot presidential vote.