Turkish Cypriots vote for new leader amid east Med tensions

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Turkish-Cypriot President Mustafa Akinci speaks to journalists after voting at a polling station in the northern part of Nicosia, the capital of the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), during the presidential election on Oct. 11, 2020. (AFP)
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A woman casts her ballot at a polling station during the election for a new leader in the Turkish occupied area in the north part of the divided capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 11 October 2020

Turkish Cypriots vote for new leader amid east Med tensions

  • If no candidate wins 50% of the vote, they will face off in a 2nd round
  • The vote comes 3 days after Turkish troops angered Cyprus

NICOSIA: Voters in the Turkish-held north of Cyprus, a breakaway state recognized only by Ankara, voted Sunday for a new leader amid charges of interference by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The presidential vote in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was held amid heightened tensions on the divided island and in the wider eastern Mediterranean.
The election in the TRNC pits the incumbent and favorite, Mustafa Akinci, who supports the eventual reunification of Cyprus as an EU member, against nationalist Ersin Tatar, who is backed by Erdogan.
“This election is crucial for our destiny,” Akinci said after casting his ballot, likening the effect of alleged Turkish political meddling to the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on public health.
The vote comes three days after Turkish troops angered the Republic of Cyprus, an EU member, and many Turkish Cypriots by reopening public access to the fenced-off seaside ghost town of Varosha for the first time since Turkish forces invaded the north in 1974.
That move sparked demonstrations in the majority Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus, which exercises its authority over the island’s southern two thirds, separated from the north by a UN-patrolled buffer zone.
Almost 200,0000 of the about 300,000 residents are registered to vote in the TRNC, which was established after the north of the island was occupied by Turkey in reaction to a coup to annex Cyprus to Greece.
One voter, Esat Tulek, aged 73 and a retired public servant, said the election was important because “we’re actually choosing the president who will be negotiating with the Greek Cypriots about the future of Cyprus.”
The election comes amid tensions in the eastern Mediterranean over the planned exploitation of hydrocarbons between Turkey on the one hand, and Greece as well as its close ally Cyprus on the other.
Erdogan announced on Tuesday, together with Tatar, the partial reopening of Varosha, a beachside resort that once drew Hollywood stars before it was abandoned by its Greek-Cypriot inhabitants during the Turkish invasion.
The move to allow visitors back into the abandoned and overgrown area was condemned by Akinci and other candidates, who saw it as Turkish interference in the election.
It was also heavily criticized by the Republic of Cyprus, the European Union and the United Nations, whose peacekeepers monitor the 180-kilometer (112-mile) buffer zone across the island.
Kemal Baykalli, founder of the non-government group Unite Cyprus Now, told AFP that “the main issue of this election is how we will define our relationship with Turkey.”
Eleven candidates are in the running, and the front-runner is Akinci, 72, a Social Democrat who favors loosening ties with Ankara, which has earned him the hostility of Erdogan.
“There are two situations that are not normal,” Akinci said after voting. “One is about our health, there is a pandemic.
“And the second one is our political health, communal health, and I’m talking here about the intervention of Turkey,” which he accused of using their facilities in TRNC “like an election office.”
The negotiations aimed at reunification stalled during Akinci’s term of office, notably on the question of the withdrawal of tens of thousands of Turkish soldiers stationed in the TRNC.
Turkey supports the nationalist Tatar, 60, currently “prime minister” of the breakaway north, who on Sunday insisted to reporters that “the TRNC and its people form a state.”
“We deserve to live on the basis of equal sovereignty,” Tatar said to applause from his supporters.
Yektan Turkyilmaz, a researcher at the Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien, said many Turkish Cypriots felt “wounded in their honor and identity” by what they considered to be interference from Ankara.
Another voter, Aysin Demirag, a 59-year-old yoga teacher, said the Varosha reopening, “under pressure from Turkey, organized as a show with days to go before the elections, was really a bad decision.”
The election is being held amid an economic crisis, deepened by the pandemic, which has largely shuttered the tourism sector and led to the closure of Ercan airport in north Nicosia and the crossing points to the south of the island.
Voting at 738 polling stations, held with precautions against the spread of COVID-19, was to close at 6:00 p.m. (1500 GMT), with result due to be released in the evening.
If no candidate wins at least 50 percent of the vote, the two leading candidates will face off in a second round on October 18.


Pan-Arab poll: Biden better for region, but must shun Obama policies

Updated 38 min 23 sec ago

Pan-Arab poll: Biden better for region, but must shun Obama policies

  • Majority of respondents to Arab News/YouGov survey consider neither candidate good for region
  • Findings show strong Arab support for Trump on Iran but not on Jerusalem embassy move

RIYADH: Nearly half the respondents in an Arab News/YouGov poll conducted in 18 Middle East and Africa (MENA) countries believe neither candidate in the upcoming US elections will necessarily be good for the region.
Of the rest, 40 percent said Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden would be better for the region while 12 percent said the same thing about incumbent President Donald Trump. But a key takeaway of the poll is that if Biden, who served as vice president to Barack Obama until 2017, wins the White House race, he would be well advised to shed the Obama administration baggage.
When asked about policies implemented in the Middle East under the Obama administration, the most popular response (53 percent) was that the Democratic president left the region worse off, with another 58 percent saying Biden should distance himself from Obama-era policies.
The study surveyed a sample of 3,097 respondents online to find out how people in the MENA region feel about the Nov. 3 US elections.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Containing Iran was found to be one of the top four issues that respondents wanted the next US president to focus on. Strong support for Trump both maintaining a war posture against Iran and imposing strict sanctions against the Tehran regime was noticed in Iraq (53 percent), Lebanon (38 percent) and Yemen (54 percent), three countries that have had intimate regional dealings with Iran.
President Trump’s 2017 decision to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem proved overwhelmingly unpopular, with 89 percent of Arabs opposing it. Surprisingly, in contrast to most other Arabs, Palestinian respondents inside the Palestinian Territories indicated a greater desire for the US to play a bigger role in mediation with Israel.
Arab opinion was largely split on the elimination this year of Iran’s regional “satrap” Gen. Qassem Soleimani, with the single largest proportion of respondents from Iraq (57 percent) and Lebanon (41 percent) seeing it as a positive move, as opposed to those in Syria and Qatar, where most respondents — respectively 57 percent and 62 percent — saw it as negative for the region.

Iran also figured in the list of perceived threats to US interests, although well behind white nationalism (32 percent) and China (22 percent). The other critical challenges for the US as viewed by Arabs were cybercrime, radical Islamic terrorism and climate change.
For a country that touts itself as an ally of the US, public attitudes in Qatar were found to be surprisingly out of sync with US objectives in the Middle East. The perception of radical Islamic terrorism, Iran and Islamist parties as the “three biggest threats facing the region” was much softer in Qatar compared with the region as a whole.
It came as little surprise that three quarters of respondents want the next US administration to make it easier for people from Arab countries to travel to the US. The figure for Lebanon, for instance, was even higher, 79 percent, underscoring concerns that many young Arabs are actively trying to leave the region.
Among other findings, Arabs remain overwhelmingly concerned about such challenges as failed government (66 percent) and the economic slowdown (43 percent).
Close to half of the respondents (44 percent) would like to see the next US president focus on empowering young people in the Arab region and solving the Arab-Israeli conflict (44 percent), followed by containing COVID-19 (37 percent), reining in Iran and Hezbollah (24 percent), quashing radical Islamic terrorism (24 percent) and tackling climate change (17 percent).