Turkey’s hand in Northern Cyprus crisis

Global Insider: Turkey’s Hand Seen in Collapse of Northern Cyprus Government

By The Editors, on 19 Jun 2013, Global Insider

Turkish Cypriot President Dervis Eroglu appointed Sibel Siber to head a caretaker government last week after the government of the territory, which is recognized only by Turkey following its 1974 invasion, collapsed on June 5. In an email interview, Michális Michael, research fellow and deputy director of the center for dialogue at La Trobe University, explained the background of the political crisis and its ramifications for the island’s peace process.

WPR: What led to the vote of no confidence against former Prime Minister Irsen Kucuk?

Michális S. Michael: Eight disaffected deputies from the ruling Ulusal Birlik Partisi (National Ruling Party, UBP), aligned with President Dervis Eroglu, resigned from their party and supported a no-confidence censure motion against Prime Minister Irsen Kucuk brought forward by the three main opposition parties: the Cumhuriyetci Turk Partisi (Republican Turkish Party, CTP), the Demokrat Partisi (Democratic Party, DP) and the Toplumcu Demokrasi Partisi (Communal Democracy Party, TDP), giving the motion a 30-18 majority in the 50-member chamber. For about a year prior to their defection, the eight UBP deputies had campaigned to undermine Kucuk’s authority by criticizing his leadership, culminating in a party leadership challenge by Ahmet Kasif, who held the health portfolio. Kucuk, backed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then took internal party disciplinary action against the eight Eroglu-aligned deputies.
The UBP’s factional feud does not appear to be ideologically based nor policy-driven. Rather it is widely believed to be part of Erdogan’s strategy to politically weaken and even replace Eroglu. The enmity dates back to 2004, when the two were on the opposite side of the referendum on the Annan Plan to resolve the Cyprus dispute; Erdogan subsequently supported Eroglu’s political opponent Mehmet Ali Talat.  Erdogan considers Eroglu a “hard-line” rejectionist who favors a two-state solution rather than the U.N.’s ongoing mediation for a federal settlement. Evidencing this enmity was Eroglu’s recent press statements regarding a “coldness” between himself and Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, and Ankara’s interference in favor of his political rivals.

WPR: How will the government collapse affect ongoing efforts for political and economic reform in Turkish Cyprus?

Michael: Northern Cyprus’ total dependence on Turkey—economically, psychologically and politically—means that there has never been any real push for fundamental reform. In this respect we can’t really talk about the crisis in Northern Cyprus having either a negative or positive impact on economic or political reform. As a matter of fact, if one is looking for a substantial discussion concerning political and economic reforms that affect the Turkish Cypriots, they are more likely to find them in the current developments taking place in Turkey or at the Cyprus peace talks.

WPR: What will the political instability mean for the peace process?

Michael: The new government, headed by Turkish Cyprus’ first female political leader, the CTP’s Sibel Siber, constitutes a CTP-DP-TDP caretaker coalition until the next scheduled elections in 2014—or earlier. In the short term, the political crisis adds another intricate dimension to the tense political relations between Eroglu and the new administration in Northern Cyprus. Given the CTP and TDP’s left-leaning politics, Eroglu may be compelled to be more proactive in the negotiation process. However, there is another facet to the changing alliances taking place in Turkish Cypriot politics: The DP, as a governing coalition partner, can reinforce Eroglu’s conservative position, especially since Eroglu’s eight former UBP deputies have joined the DP. Eroglu himself is not scheduled for elections until 2015. Until matters settle down in Turkey and the Greek Cypriots come out of their economic malaise—not to mention Greece’s crisis—then delay, deferral and discontinuity in the negotiations, paradoxically, serves as the lowest common denominator for all sides, including Eroglu.

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