Voters in the self-declared Turkish Cypriot state went to the polls yesterday in a leadership election that could put a hardliner in power and jeopardize talks on reunification of the divided island.
The UN-brokered talks are on hold until after the vote pitting incumbent Mehmet Ali Talat — who is seen as backing a settlement with Greek Cypriots — against veteran politician Dervis Eroglu, tipped as the favorite in opinion polls.
There are 164,072 registered voters out of a population of about 250,000 in the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which declared independence unilaterally in 1983.
Only Turkey recognizes the TRNC, and Ankara still keeps 35,000 troops on the island. Turkey occupied the northern third of Cyprus in 1974 in response to a Greek Cypriot coup aimed at uniting it with Greece.
Eroglu, 72, heads the right-wing National Unity Party (UBP) that in April last year defeated the leftist Republican Turkish Party (CTP) formerly headed by Talat, 58, in a legislative election.
If Talat fails to win a second five-year presidential term, it could be down to popular disillusion over the lack of tangible progress from 18 months of reunification talks with President Demetris Christofias.
Christofias, the Greek Cypriot leader, heads the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, a member of the EU.
“I am convinced that I will be elected with 60 percent of the vote in the first round,” Eroglu said in a Turkish newspaper interview.
Although his commitment to the talks with Greek Cypriots is considered doubtful, Eroglu has given assurances he will not abandon the negotiations, but he has also said he will not actively push for a settlement.
The talks, launched in September 2008, are predicated on a federal solution, with distinct geographical zones for the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.
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