WORLD / EUROPE
Amid an economic crisis, there is little political interest among the TRNC
Turkish Cypriot voters head to polls
Published: Jan 23, 2022 06:22 PM
A woman prepares to vote at a polling station in the northern part of Nicosia, Cyprus, during the presidential election on Sunday. The self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) started a vote for a new leader amid heightened tensions on the divided island and in the wider eastern Mediterranean region. Photo: AFP

A woman prepares to vote at a polling station in the northern part of Nicosia, Cyprus, during the presidential election on Sunday. The self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) started a vote for a new leader amid heightened tensions on the divided island and in the wider eastern Mediterranean region. Photo: AFP



 Turkish Cypriots were set to cast their ballots Sunday for a snap legislative election in the breakaway northern third of the Mediterranean island after a campaign dominated by an economic crisis.

The self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and the plummeting value of the Turkish lira.

Analysts said there has been a lack of interest in the poll among some 204,000 voters who were "concerned primarily with their health, safety and economic welfare."

"Compared to the previous elections in northern Cyprus, there is much less energy and enthusiasm in the air," political scientists Ahmet Sozen and Devrim Sahin wrote on the website of Italian think tank ISPI. Cyprus has been split since 1974 when Turkish forces occupied the northern part of the island in response to a military coup sponsored by the junta in power in Greece at the time. Unlike in previous TRNC elections, campaigning this time has focused on the territory's economic woes rather than any talk of a solution to the problem.

Hopes of resolving the intractable dispute suffered a setback when right-wing nationalist Ersin Tatar pulled off a surprise, narrow win over pro-unification candidate Mustafa Akinci in the TRNC's 2020 presidential election.

Tatar, a close ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has pressed for recognition and insisted on a two-state solution at UN-brokered talks on ending the division. His stance was flatly rejected by the majority Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus, a EU member with effective control over the southern two-thirds of the island. The Erdogan administration was accused of interference in the TRNC's 2020 presidential election, sparking resentment among many Turkish Cypriots.

This time, however, "there is no need for Turkey's government to play an active role to change the course of the election," Sozen and Sahin wrote.

Instead, it is Erdogan's handling of the Turkish economy, on which the TRNC heavily relies, that has emerged as the key issue in the poll.

The Turkish lira shed nearly half of its value in 2021, driving up prices and exacerbating decades of economic isolation imposed on the Turkish Cypriot statelet. Opinion polls indicate that the right-wing National Unity Party (UBP), which envisions a two-state solution to the island's division, will do the best in the election for a new parliament, where it holds 21 seats. It is followed by the center-left Republican Turkish Party (CTP), which favors a settlement with the Greek Cypriots. But campaigning around the latest election has featured little debate over a solution to the Cyprus problem.

Some on the left have called for a boycott, with the small United Cyprus Party stating that "nothing will change" until Turkish Cypriots are "liberated from the yoke of Ankara."