NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) – Turkish Cypriots began voting Sunday in a leading run-off between an incumbent who promises a course less tied to Turkey’s dictatorship and a challenger who favors even more ties to Ankara. The milestones have risen as the battle over energy rights in the eastern Mediterranean intensifies.
Acting veteran Mustafa Akinci, 72, is a champion of Turkish Cypriots who oppose Turkey’s complete domination of their affairs. His hardliner Ersin Tatar, 60, fully defends Turkish Cypriot policies with those of Turkey, the region’s defender.
The Mediterranean island state of Cyprus split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north that is economically and militarily dependent on Ankara. The island’s internationally recognized government has its seat south of Greek Cypriot and is part of the 27-nation European Union.
The quarrel between Turkish Cypriots who want to keep more say how they govern and those who want to walk in closed steps with Turkey has been a prominent feature in past leadership races, but this race seems more polarized than ever.
Akinci has claimed that Turkey has engaged in “unprecedented” interventions throughout the campaign in favor of Tatar and that he and his family have received threats to give up the race.
“We know things happened that should not have happened,” Akinci said after casting his ballot, adding that he wants voters to look back on Sunday ‘s election with “pride in Turkish Cypriot democracy and will”.
Tatar left Akinci in the first round of voting by less than three percent but Akinci has now won the support of the third-place candidate. Analyst Tumay Tugyan says the race could go on anyway as Tatar made a significant turnout of nearly 200,000 strong voters – especially in rural areas – who may not have voted in the first round.
Tatar urged voters to come out and beat the record-low turnout of the first round.
“The important thing is to reflect our will and send a message to the world,” Tatar said after the vote.
A first test for the winner will be a meeting with Greek Cypriots and Cyprus ‘guarantors’ – Greece, Turkey and Britain – that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is expected to convene soon. The goal will be to understand if there is enough common language to resume dormant peace talks.
Nearly five decades of facilitated UN efforts to achieve reunification based on a federal framework have failed.
Akinci believes the federation is the only way to a peace deal. Tatar shares the Turkish government’s view that federation may not be the most viable option and alternatives such as a two-state agreement should be pursued.
Tensions have risen this summer in waters near Greece and Cyprus over sea borders and energy exploration rights after Turkey redistributed a research vessel off the Greek island of Kastellorizo. The move cast doubt on new talks aimed at resolving the dispute.
Turkey insists it has every legal right to seek hydrocarbons in waters where Greece and Cyprus claim exclusive economic rights. Greek and Cypriot governments accuse Turkey of violating international law. The dispute raised fears of a military conflict between Greece and Turkey, NATO members who are strong regional rivals.
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