Becoming the President of North Cyprus means more than being the symbolic leader of the Turkish Cypriots; it also means becoming the lead negotiator in the Cyprus talks.
Both candidates, Dervis Eroglu and rival Mustafa Akinci have consistently repeated that they are committed to a solution of the Cyprus problem during the course of the election campaign.
What does each man represent in terms of a solution? Eroglu, for many years prime minister of the TRNC, has always been seen as a someone who upholds the division of the island and an advocate for the recognition of the TRNC. Despite this, even his opponents would agree that since he became president he has engaged in negotiations, first with Demetris Christofias and then with Nicos Anastasiades.
During his election campaign, Eroglu has said he is ready to return to the negotiating table, abandoned by President Anastasiades over the issuing of a Marine Notice to Mariners (NAVTEX) by Turkey. Turkey said that it would be searching for hydrocarbons on behalf of the Turkish Cypriots in the South’s unilaterally declared EEZ.
However, Eroglu also insists on imposing a two year time limit on the talks. If there is no solution, he has suggested holding a referendum for the Turkish Cypriots to decide what would be the next steps.
On the property issue he wants limited returns, based on exchange and compensation. The fenced-off town of Varosha should remain under Turkish control and negotiated as part of a comprehensive solution.
Opposing him in the presidential elections, Mustafa Akinci is seen to be more willing to make compromises. He has made it clear during the campaign that if elected, he has no intention of re-starting the talks with any “red lines” but that he might consider a timetable, should he feel convinced that the other side lacked good intentions.
Akinci has promised to prioritise the topic of Varosha and said he would try to reach agreement with the Greek Cypriots about opening it under UN administration in exchange for the easing of restrictions on direct trade and direct flights. This offer would not be linked to comprehensive negotiations. He contended that such a move would be a catalyst in the overall negotiations and contribute to building peace.
Similarly, Akinci supports broader implementation of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) to support and supplement the peace process and ultimately prepare people on both sides for a federal solution.
The Cyprus problem has tended to obscure other political issues in the North. Akinci is sensitive to the concerns of many young Turkish Cypriots’ regarding human rights, gender issues, animal welfare and the environment.
Political analyst Dr Omur Yilmaz has said this is an important distinction between Akinci and Eroglu and should not be underestimated.
“Politics on these issues has always been muted and overshadowed by the endless parochial discussions on the Cyprus problem,” she maintains, serving to “depoliticise” many young people.
Akinci’s stance and his willingness to discuss these issues resonate with the young and has given many of them a reason to engage in the political process as voters, volunteers, and supporters.