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Cyprus Election Results and Commentary

by Upstate NY Sun Feb 24th, 2008 at 03:54:27 PM EST


Greek Cypriot parliament speaker Christofias, 61, secured 53.36 percent of the vote against 46.64 percent for conservative former foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides in an election billed by the local media as one of the most crucial in the history of Cyprus.

Below the fold is my own personal reaction:

My reaction to the results is quite skeptical as to whether this will yield any movement on reunification talks.

I wrote this last week after the first round of the elections:

The next year will be incredibly interesting for Cyprus. The EU and Washington will read the new leadership as a good chance to resurrect the Annan Plan. Given the electoral realities on the island, and the fact that 76% voted against the plan, it will be interesting to see how much the new leaders actually resist the plan. The fact that AKEL--the most pro-unification group in Cyprus--rejected the Annan Plan 5 in 2004 is meaningful.

    Papdapoulos was an awful diplomat, and a bad interlocutor. That being said, his biggest failing may very well be that he was simply "there" in 2004. It's my understanding that any of these leaders would have rejected the agreement in 2004, but it served them politically in 2008 to distance themselves from Papadopoulos.

    Though DISY supported the plan, I'm reminded of how often in the past people like Clerides acted exactly as Papadopoulos did when they were in charge and had a chance to come to an agreement. Each time the leadership realized they had given away too much and scotched it. The 2003 Annan Plan 3 was perhaps the only time in the problem's history that they had a plan they could live with.

    Ultimately, I predict, the new leader will also be regarded as a nationalist hardliner (especially if it's the Communist party's Christofias), two adjectives thrown around rather easily by the Western press these days.

    The end game is still going to be Turkish accession into the EU quite apart from the Cyprus problem. If Turkey feels as though entrance is likely, only then will they negotiate terms acceptable to the Greek Cypriots.

The main differences between the two candidates in today's election are that the right-winger, DISY's Kassoulides, favored the Anna Plan before the referendum, and that the left-winger, AKEL's Dimitris Christofias, was against it. These facts alone are not enough, however, to tell you where either party actually stands on Annan 5. For instance, in multiple examples from the past, the DISY leaders have spoken of great enthusiasm for unification only to feel slightly queasy about the actual plans when they've been in power. Glafcos Clerides, Kassoulides successor, is now renowned as a moderate statesmen, but on multiple occasions he has nixed an agreement when he perceived that it gave away the farm to Turkey. It could very well be that DISY only favored the Annan Plan 5 because they were not in power, and so their YES vote presented an effective counterpoint against Papadopoulos, a man they knew would vote NO. Plus, DISY has been one of the more anti-Turkish parties in its history. Ironic that they are now portrayed as the most pro-unification.

AKEL, on the other hand, with their roots in socialist politics, much like the party in power on the Turkish Cypriot side, has always maintained ties with the Turks to the north. They have been the driving force for unification for a long period. Ironically, when Papadopoulos came into power, he offered a power sharing agreement with AKEL, and that held sway with AKEL party leaders when it came time to make a decision on Annan Plan 5. AKEL voted no with Papadopoulos' DIKO, even though many party regulars were in favor of the plan. It must be said that in last week's horse-trading, the DIKO party advised party members to vote for Christofias in today's election because of promises that AKEL made to DIKO on cabinet positions. So, the party most sympathetic to Turkish Cypriot concerns historically is now in power, and ironically they have cut a deal with the party which is not too fond of the Annan Plan 5.

I am of the opinion that it doesn't really matter who is in power. The citizens who voted 76% against the plan pretty much know what they want. Once someone ascends to the Republic's presidency, then opinion on reunification seems to coalesce into a position very much like Papadopoulos', and all criticism of that position seems to be political posturing by the opposition. The number of voters is actually small. A huge percentage of them, 1/3rd, are refugees from the north. The property issue is a big obstacle regardless of party. The presence of Turkish troops is also a big obstacle. These are more or less national issues.

Personality and history might make a difference here, but I don't think so. Papadopoulos was hamfisted and blundering in his diplomatic attempts. Christofias has contact with the Turkish Cypriots. That may make a difference but I doubt it. Ultimately, the referendum in 2004 will always prove a major obstacle for unification. As many of you know, I am of the opinion that Cyprus' entry into the EU was not a major obstacle for Turkey, as most of the EU presented it. I believe the referendum is a much much bigger obstacle. Whether Cyprus is in the EU or not, it just doesn't matter. As a matter of course, Greece would have NEVER voted Turkey in while it was still occupying a European country. So it doesn't matter that Cyprus is in. What matters is that Turkey still occupies Cyprus. The referendum on the other hand established the UN's imprimatur over a plan that is absolutely a no-go for Greek Cypriots. Not only does it not allow the right of return for Greeks to the north, and allow a 20 year presence of Turkish troops, it requires the Republic of Cyprus to repay the refugees who lost their homes. Ostensibly, since the refugees themselves are taxpayers, they will be required to pay for the loss of their homes. The plan is a really putrid one, if you ask me. And once it was cobbled together by the US and Kofi Annan, PM Erdogan of Turkey was quoted in Turkish papers as responding, "We got everything we wanted." Now, maybe he was just asying it because the skepticism coming from the Turkish military. I don't know. But I do know that the Annan Plan's mere existence is now a huge huge problem for reconciliation. Why in the world would the Turks move away from its provisions? They won't. And I don't blame them.

In Turkish newspapers the endgame is spoken about rather openly. No deal on Cyprus until Turkey is assured of a spot in the EU. And even better, keep the Cyprus problem up in the air so that Cyprus can be used as a bargaining card right at the very end of negotiations.

The basic parameters of governance have already been agreed to by everyone. A bizonal bicommunal federation with minority right of veto over international issues. Ironically enough, the deal for the Greek side gets worse anytime they reject a previous plan for favoring Turkey. In 1974, the initial plan discussed in Switzerland after the collapse of the coup d'etat was of a split into autonomous havens. Three weeks later after peace talks commenced, Turkey invaded again and split the country in two--a gambit that surprised even Henry Kissinger, judging by the recent release of classified US State Dept. documents. The 1980s agreement was far far better than the Annan Plan 5. There's no guarantee for the Greek Cypriots that the final plan will not be much worse than Annan 5. So, you might have movement there among Greeks who will accept their losses and say, "Whatever." But many will also argue that Annan 5 is actually much much worse than no plan at all. Precisely because it prevents them from returning to properties and requires that they compensate themselves.

Consider, a Turkey that enters the EU will abide by the Aquis. Which means Greek Cypriots will be provided freedom of movement to the north and the right to return to their property by virtue of the Aquis. This is why entering the EU was important for the Greek Cypriots, not because of veto threats over Turkey. So, the Greek side may agree to Annan 5 with the knowledge that the deal gets worse with every passing generation, or they may simply decide that doing nothing or even partition is actually better than the Annan Plan.

On the Turkish side, short of a major uprising and demonstrations by Turkish Cypriots tired of Turkey's encroachment on Cypriot political and cultural life (and there are a lot of them very concerned about the Turkish military's dictats and the influx of Turkish settlers), I don't believe they'll budge from Annan Plan 5, nor do I believe they will seek an alternate deal up until that time that Turkey is assured entry. It could happen that you have mass populist pressure in the north to cut a deal that makes a few more concessions to the Greek side, but then they'd be butting up against the Turkish deep state.

In short, I'm a pessimist on Cyprus's reunification, though I do believe there is some hope, some surprise by the actors on the ground.

This is a very small community, a country no bigger than a small European city. They all know each other. That's both a burden and an advantage to reconciliation.

AFP re-edited the article since I accessed it, excising an important comment I weant your comment on (even better if you can find the Greek original) -- here it is via NEWS.com.au:

"We have a vision, we have a history of struggle and contact with the people in our efforts to reunify our country without foreign troops," Mr Christofias said after casting his vote.

What does he mean? Only Turkish troops, or British, too?

Furthermore, I am curous what to expect of Chrisofias on issues other than re-unification and Turkey. (Him being a nominal commie and all.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Feb 24th, 2008 at 05:14:22 PM EST
The British troop issue is off-the-table as long as the Cyprus problem is still there. Antagonizing the Brits is useful only in terms of friendly threats.

For the longterm, this is a Falklands situation inside the EU. The British attitude toward the Cyprus bases is still one of a colonial master. And I'm especially referring to the fact that the Cypriots living on the bases (the bases themselves are HUGE, look at a map) do not have rights as EU citizens.

As for Christofias' background, his moves might be circumscribed by the fact that Cyprus's tax base and social safety net is (probably) the lowest in the EU. There is easily a lot of headroom for raising taxes, but it smacks into the main business of Cyprus (banking, tourism, shipping).

by Upstate NY on Sun Feb 24th, 2008 at 05:54:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The British troop issue is off-the-table as long as the Cyprus problem is still there. Antagonizing the Brits is useful only in terms of friendly threats.

But do you think the quoted part did mean the Brits, too?

If we are here, do the Turkish Cypriots and their political leaders have any opinion on the British presence in the South?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Feb 24th, 2008 at 06:03:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, these guys simply do not change policy from administration to administration. It's such a small place. Strategically, taking on the Brits on this is ill-advised.
by Upstate NY on Sun Feb 24th, 2008 at 06:18:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
AKEL has been steadfastly against the British presence on the island (and rejected the Zurich agreement because of them back in the day and used their continued presence as an excuse not to back the Annan Plan). Indeed they are of the opinion that the British military bases will be ousted from Cyprus as soon as the two communities are reunited.

I'd add to the excellent if pessimistic, diary by Upstate NY, that AKEL will no doubt take advantage of its excellent relations with a good deal of the T/C community. In his first speech after receiving over the phone congratulations by the leader of the T/C community Mehmet Ali Talat he said that

Starting tomorrow we join forces. We function collectively and with unity. To achieve the reunification of our homeland... At this time, our only ideology is Cyprus, its salvation and a fairer society...

We share a common vision of reuniting Greek and Turkish Cypriots. I extend a hand of friendship towards the Turkish Cypriots and their leadership

I must point out that Talat's ruling Republican Turkish Party is the leftist T/C party, and has a very long and strong relationship with AKEL. Should Christofias play this thing right and make some sort of deal with the T/C leadership, it might end up as a problem for Turkey. Whether Talat is in a position to rock the boat like that, I really can't tell.

As for their program. See their (not-exactly-up-to-date-or-firefox-friendly) website. If you go by rhetoric and symbolism, this is a "pure" Marxist party. However there is no mandate for social revolution. Since time immemorial Cyprus' political landscape was 1/3 nationalist, 1/3 centrist-moderate socialist and 1/3 communist (+/- a point or two). The only thing that's changed is that this is the first time that the communists have won the presidency with the support of the centre (rather than the other way around). There is room for a more social democratic Cyprus, indeed, but AKEL is cooperating with a socialist and a centrist party in the parliament, so Christofias most definitely doesn't have a free hand in policy.

Anyway, comrade Christofias' victory, is but a first sign of the Greek-speaking world's shift to the left. In Greece, the political landscape is collapsing and the left has been polling numbers it hasn't seen since the 1960s, led by a "Greek Besancenot", in age and radicalism - but for that development I must right a diary...

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake

by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Sun Feb 24th, 2008 at 06:37:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On policy, I quote from Bloomberg:

Christofias... last year sought to delay Cyprus's adoption of the euro which replaced the local currency last month.

He also pledged to keep Cyprus Telecommunications Authority and Electricity Authority of Cyprus under state control and to fight EU measures that might weaken welfare provisions and trade union powers. A spokesman of the opposition Disy party, Tassos Mitsopoulos, on Feb. 20 accused him of seeking to make Cyprus a "state of Euro-skeptics."

"I am not a Euro-skeptic," the communist leader said in a television debate with Kasoulides three days ago. "I'm a Euro- fighter. I fight for Cyprus's best interests within Europe. I won't say yes to everything the EU says."

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake
by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Sun Feb 24th, 2008 at 06:43:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Things are moving very positively in the reunification front it seems.

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake
by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Mon Feb 25th, 2008 at 07:59:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for a very informative diary!

"Ignoring moralities is always undesirable, but doing so systematically is really worrisome." Mohammed Khatami
by eternalcityblues (parvati_roma aaaat libero.it) on Sun Feb 24th, 2008 at 08:52:49 PM EST
Consider, a Turkey that enters the EU will abide by the Aquis. Which means Greek Cypriots will be provided freedom of movement to the north and the right to return to their property by virtue of the Aquis. This is why entering the EU was important for the Greek Cypriots, not because of veto threats over Turkey.

You seem to be making two extremely unlikely assumptions:

  1. That Turkey will join the EU without Cyprus being reunified. Greece and the Republic of Cyprus would veto it.

  2. That Turkish membership of the EU would make the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which in the eyes of the Turkish government is an independent, sovereign state, subject to the EU acquis.
by Gag Halfrunt on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 08:52:52 AM EST
Northern Cyprus is subject to the Acquis already as part of Cyrpus, in the eyes of everyone except Turkey.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 08:59:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Apparently not:
The whole of the island is considered to be part of the EU. However, in the northern part of the island, in the areas in which the Government of Cyprus does not exercise effective control, EU legislation is suspended in line with Protocol 10 of the Accession Treaty 2003. This means for example that these areas are outside the customs and fiscal territory of the EU. However, the suspension does not affect the personal rights of Turkish Cypriots as EU citizens. They are citizens of a Member State, the Republic of Cyprus, even though they may live in the areas not under government control.
by Gag Halfrunt on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 10:23:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
#1. I agreed with you on this in the very diary. It was one of my central points. I wrote that no matter if Cyprus entered the EU or not, Greece would have still vetoed it if it were still occupying Cyprus. Frankly, I expect that a great many countries would have. The only argument used against Cyprus's entry is that they possess a veto against Turkey, a veto which Cyprus will not use if Turkey is no longer occupying the country. So that becomes a tautology there. Effectively, with Greece as a proxy for Turkey, Cyprus's admission just doesn't matter.

#2. Migeru explained below that the Acquis is already supposed to be in effect in the north. Furthermore, I can't see how Turkey would enter the EU without the Cyprus problem being solved, so a Turkey inside and a TRNC outside the EU could never exist. That being said, there is a small possibility that a Turkey inside and a TRNC inside could exist if Cyprus and the rest of the European nations agree to recognize it and allow the whole of Cyprus to represent two countries.

That would be a little like splitting off Kosovo...

Oh wait!

by Upstate NY on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 09:54:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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