Eroglu won Sunday’s election, scoring 50.3 per cent of the vote. His incumbent rival Mehmet Ali Talat scored 42.8 per cent.
Speaking through his spokesman, the newly elected Turkish Cypriot leader told the Cyprus Mail he would need time to assemble his negotiating team, after which negotiations would resume.
It remained uncertain, however, whether Eroglu would demand negotiations begin from square one, or continue from where outgoing Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat and Christofias left off after 18 months of talks.
“He will look at everything [negotiated so far], at the convergences and divergences,” spokesman Metin Beyoglu said yesterday. He added there were “some points which need to be clarified to see whether we and the Greek Cypriots see what has been agreed in exactly the same way”.
Christofias yesterday telephoned Eroglu and conveyed his willingness to meet him at the negotiating table. Eroglu thanked the President and expressed the wish that the two of them meet soon.
According to the announcement by the Presidential Palace, Christofias also called Talat and the two agreed to remain in contact on the efforts being made to solve the Cyprus problem.
In earlier statements following his victory, Eroglu said he was against several areas in which convergence had been reached between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot sides. Most contentious was the idea that a reunited Cyprus would hold a single sovereignty. Eroglu says he believes that sovereignty should be divided between the two existing states, which could then unite. He has also been quoted saying that Cyprus would be better off enacting a Czech-Slovak style “velvet divorce”.
Widely seen as a nationalist who supports two separate independent states on Cyprus, Eroglu’s victory has been received as a setback for ongoing reunification talks. Many believe he will not attempt to seriously negotiate a settlement along the lines already established by the two sides and the UN, namely that on a bizonal, bicommunal federation. Throughout his election campaign Eroglu promised to preserve the breakaway ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC)’.
Despite this, Eroglu insists he is not against working for a settlement.
“I do not agree with the distinction between those who want a settlement and those who don’t,” he said on Sunday night after claiming victory in the vote. He added that he was for a solution because it was the Turkish Cypriot community that was suffering the most in Cyprus’ current situation.
Eroglu also surprised observers on Sunday night that he would continue to negotiate “within the [established] parameters of UN-sponsored talks”. However, many will say he contradicted this statement by insisting that the future settlement model reflects the “current realities on Cyprus” – a phrase often used by Eroglu’s former mentor and ‘TRNC’ founder Rauf Denktash.
There was widespread talk of the Turkish government’s disappointment at Eroglu’s victory on Sunday night. With Turkey seeking membership of the EU, many see Eroglu’s election as a blow to its policy of actively seeking a resolution to the Cyprus problem. The EU has made it very clear that Turkey’s accession will only be possible if it displays a constructive effort in reuniting the island. Appearing on Turkish television news channel NTV last night a stern looking Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told reporters that Eroglu must continue negotiations within UN parameters.
As if reacting to Erdogan’s words, Eroglu spelt out last night that he “did not become a candidate in order to obstruct talks. I became a candidate in order to defend the rights of the Turkish Cypriots at the negotiating table. Whatever people say, we are for a solution”.
Dr Erol Kaymak, political analyst and international relations lecturer at the Eastern Mediterranean University (EMU) in Famagusta, told the Mail yesterday he believed Eroglu’s election win was still likely to hamper the already painfully slow reunification talks.
“I don’t anticipate a lot of progress,” Kaymak said, adding that he saw resumed negotiations resembling a game of dare.
“The main question will be, who is going to scare the other off the table? Someone is likely to try and cause a crisis.”
Kaymak added, however, that Eroglu would be being closely watched by the Turkish government and “encouraged to continue in the tradition of proactive politics”.
“Turkey will want him to declare his commitment to the EU, especially when it comes to the possible tradeoff of opening ports in Turkey to Greek Cypriot vessels in return for direct trade for the Turkish Cypriot community.”
The question remained yesterday as to why, after seven years of a relatively soft political approach by the Turkish Cypriot side, voters there had resurrected the hardline politics of the past.
Many blame the EU and the Greek Cypriots. As one participant at the Eroglu pre-election rally on Friday night told the Cyprus Mail, “Last time I voted for Talat, but nothing changed. Why should I vote for him again?”
It is clear that the sluggishness of the reunification talks, generally perceived in the north as being Christofias’ doing, was a factor in Talat’s demise. Many also see the EU as increasingly unwilling to take on Turkey, and therefore believe the north too will be left out in the cold for many years to come.
As Kaymak said, “There are many who will say to Christofias and the EU, Eroglu is your child, not ours”.
However, others in the north were saying yesterday that Eroglu’s victory came not so much as a result of Turkish Cypriot disillusionment with Greek Cypriots and the EU, but from the fact that local voters were outnumbered by mainland Turkish voters, who had little interest in reunification.
KADEM pollster Muharrrem Faiz, while denying that Talat would have won the election had mainland Turks not participated in the vote, told the Mail yesterday that only 23 per cent of mainlanders voted for Talat.
“If only Turkish Cypriots had voted, Talat would have been only one or two points behind,” Faiz said.
By Simon Bahceli, Cyprus Mail, April 20, 2010