An electoral upset in Cyprus

Published : Mar 28, 2003 00:00 IST

There are fears that President Glafkos Clerides' defeat in the presidential election in Cyprus may affect the negotiations for the reunification of the divided island.

THE surprise defeat of the long-serving President Cyprus Glafkos Clerides in the elections held in the third week of February may not be good news for the proponents of speedy reunification of the divided island. Clerides was defeated by Opposition leader Tassos Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos, who was the youngest Minister in the first Cabinet of independent Cyprus under Archbishop Makarios, now becomes the fifth President of the republic.

Papadopoulos heads the centrist Democratic Party. It was the support of Akel, the Communist Party, that swung the verdict overwhelmingly in his favour. Akel has traditionally polled between 30 and 40 per cent of the votes. Akel is a strong supporter of reunification. It will be very difficult for the new President to ignore the Left's viewpoint on the question of reunification.

In his younger days Papadopoulos was known for his nationalist and anti-Turkish views. However, after winning the election, he has reiterated his commitment to continue the high-level dialogue with the North, despite his stated differences on some aspects of the latest United Nations-brokered plan. Papadopoulos announced after a meeting with the U.N. special envoy, Alvaro de Soto, in the third week of February that reunification talks with the North would be resumed immediately.

After the election results were announced, President Rauf Denktash, the northern Turkish Cypriot leader, said that he was "saddened" by the decision of the Greek Cypriot majority to support the candidate who was against the negotiations for a peaceful settlement. He expressed regret over the defeat of Clerides, saying that the outcome of the polls had seriously damaged the chances of reunification. "It is the intransigent stance of the Greek Cypriot people which won," he added.

Denktash also urged the President-elect to come out soon with a "realistic plan". Otherwise, he said, it would be pointless to continue with the talks. Papadopoulos had, during the campaign, proposed that certain changes need to be made in the proposed U.N. peace plan. He had also pledged to be the President of all Cypriots.

As the election results showed, the majority of Greek Cypriots are evidently unhappy with what they perceive as unnecessary concessions being made to hasten the pace of reunification. During the partition of the island, Turkish Cypriots had occupied a lot of land belonging to Greek Cypriots. Many of those who lost their land and property after the division of the island in 1974 want to restake their claims once the island is formally reunited. This demand has been rejected by the administration under Denktash.

The U.N. and the international community were depending on President Clerides to expedite the process of reunification.

THE Republic of Cyprus is anyway due to join the European Union by 2004. The accession papers to the E.U. are to be signed in April. Their Muslim brethren in north Cyprus would also like to be part of the prosperous economic grouping at the earliest. The U.N. had given the governments in the North and the South the deadline of February 28 to agree on reunification so that they can join the E.U. as one country.

Despite the latest developments, efforts are on to reach a diplomatic settlement. In the third week of February, Turkey's Prime Minister Abdullah Gul met U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the sidelines of the E.U. summit in Brussels.

There have been demonstrations in the North in the last couple of months favouring an immediate reunification. Almost the entire population in the North participated in one such demonstration. The economy of the North, in comparison with the South, is in dire straits. Owing to political compulsions, northern Cyprus is totally dependent on Turkey for all its needs. Turkey itself is eager to join the E.U. and is eager to withdraw its military from the island.

However, Denktash, who has been President of the breakaway state since partition in 1974, is known to be lukewarm to the plan put forward by Kofi Annan. Only Turkey recognises the Turkish Cypriot state. The new government in Ankara has been exerting tremendous pressure on Denktash to be more flexible. The feeling in Ankara is that if Cyprus enters the E.U. as one country, the chances of Turkey joining the E.U. will also improve.

The U.N. plan envisages a bi-zonal federation, with a joint Greek Cypriot/Turkish Cypriot government based in Nicosia. Denktash, still supported by Turkey, was initially opposed to the plan. He had pledged that the Turkish Cypriot majority would never again become a minority, nor would he allow domination by Greek Cypriot again. But recent events have shown that he has very little support left, both within his country and in Turkey. Even the settlers from Turkey, who now outnumber Turkish Cypriots, are for reunification.

Clerides had expended most of his time and energy to bring about an amicable and speedy resolution of the problem. Until recently the Turkish government had warned that it would annex northern Cyprus if the Republic of Cyprus joined the E.U. without a solution to the long-term problem of the island.

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