Mon, Feb 21, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Voters in northern Cyprus hope poll will break deadlock

AFP , NICOSIA

Voters in breakaway northern Cyprus went to early polls yesterday to try to elect a new Turkish Cypriot government aimed at breaking a political impasse sparked by the failure last year of a UN plan to reunify the island.

The isolated Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) has been deadlocked since last May when the ruling pro-settlement coalition lost its slim parliamentary majority, shortly after the UN scheme was rejected in an April 24 referendum, and finally resigned.

Some 148,000 voters will elect 50 parliament members from seven parties in the polls, which are expected to be a close race between the senior ruling party of prime minister Mehmet Ali Talat and the nationalist main opposition.

Opinion polls predict the elections will not bring any one party to power but produce the same fragmented result as the last polls in December 2003, fanning fears of uncertainty in the self-proclaimed state recognized only by Ankara.

"Stamp for democracy," trumpeted the statelet's major newspaper Kibris.

"The decision is yours," said another daily, Halkin Sesi.

But with no hope of a breakthrough on the political scene, the polls have generated little excitement among the electorate with most parties attracting only minimal crowds at rallies.

Opinion polls have tipped Talat's center-left Republican Turkish Party (CTP) to emerge as the largest single party, but not with enough seats to set up a government on its own.

The party, which won the last elections after fiercely advocating the failed UN plan, has argued that a victory would help it push for a revival of peace talks and allow the isolated Turkish Cypriots to integrate with the international community.

His main contender in the race is the nationalist National Unity Party (UBP) of former prime minister Dervis Eroglu, who is a fierce opponent of reunification with the Greek Cypriots on the basis of the failed UN plan.

They have been campaigning heavily against the CTP, accusing it of failing to keep its promises of a settlement and eventual EU membership.

Two other parties -- the Democrat Party and the Peace and Democracy Movement -- are expected to garner enough votes to win parliamentary seats. The remaining three are not likely to overcome the 5 percent threshold to enter parliament.

Political commentators say the result of the vote is unlikely to change the stalemate in efforts to end the island's 30-year-long division. The peace process has been stalled since the majority of Greek Cypriots in southern Cyprus voted in a referendum against the UN reunification plan while the breakaway Turkish Cypriots rallied behind it.

As a result, only the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south of the island joined the EU on May 1.

Observers believe any viable effort to jumpstart peace talks will have to wait until after presidential elections in April when hardline Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash is to stand down.

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