Hardliner wins Turkish Cypriot leadership runoff

A hardliner who favours even closer ties with Turkey and a tougher stance with Greek Cypriots in peace talks has defeated the leftist incumbent in the Turkish Cypriot leadership runoff.

The Turkish Cypriot broadcaster BRT said Ersin Tatar secured 51.74% of the vote, compared with 48.26% for Mustafa Akıncı.

Tatar appears to have benefited from a higher turnout in the runoff, managing to rally supporters from the approximately 200,000-strong electorate who may not have voted in the first round.

Akıncı conceded defeat to Tatar in a speech to supporters at his campaign headquarters. “We went through an election contest that wasn’t normal ... These results mark the end of my 45-year political career,” he said. “I wish good luck to our people.”

Akıncı, 72, is a champion of Turkish Cypriots who oppose Turkey’s domination of their affairs. Tatar, 60, advocates fully aligning Turkish Cypriot policies with those of Turkey, the region’s patron.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, congratulated Tatar on his victory. “Turkey will continue to make all necessary efforts to defend the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people,” he tweeted.

The Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognises a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north that is economically and militarily dependent on Ankara. The island’s internationally recognised government has its seat in the Greek Cypriot south and is part of the EU.

The tussle between Turkish Cypriots who seek to retain more say in how they are governed and those who want to walk in lockstep with Turkey has been a prominent feature in past leadership races, but this contest seems more polarised than ever.

Akıncı has alleged that Turkey engaged in “unprecedented” interference throughout the campaign in favour of Tatar, and has said he and his family received threats. “We know that things happened that shouldn’t have happened,” he said after casting his ballot.

A first test for the winner will be a meeting with Greek Cypriots and Cyprus’s “guarantors” – Greece, Turkey and Britain – which the UN secretary general, António Guterres, is expected to call soon. The aim will be to work out whether there is enough common ground to restart dormant peace talks.

Nearly five decades of UN-facilitated attempts at achieving reunification based on a federal framework have failed. Akıncı believes federation is the only way toward a peace accord. Tatar shares the Turkish government view that federation may not be the most viable option and alternatives such as a two-state deal should be pursued.