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In this article which appeared in the Turkish daily Radikal on 21 April 2009, Erdal Güven assesses Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat’s position as negotiator in ongoing talks to find a settlement to the Cyprus problem following the nationalist UBP’s sweeping victory in recent parliamentary elections. Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton.

Talat is worried

Erdal Güven

Yes, the expected happened and the National Unity Party (UBP), following an absence of around five years, returned to power in the early general elections held the day before yesterday in the TRNC. In my articles in the run up to the election I tried to explain the reasons for the decline of the Republican Turkish Party (CTP), which has been in power for five years. In short, the CTP has failed to live up to the high standards that it set itself in terms both of vision for a settlement and socioeconomic goals. Under these circumstances the electorate punished the CTP.

This is history. What comes next is important. In particular, the extent to which the UBP government will influence the Turkish side’s position in the settlement process. So all eyes will now turn to the course charted in relations between the future Prime Minister Derviş Eroğlu and President Mehmet Ali Talat. In formal terms, Eroğlu wishes in the first place to be informed directly of the contents of negotiations and thus insists on having a representative on the negotiating delegation. The crucial point here is obviously whether the UBP will participate or intervene in the negotiating process. In other words, will the UBP overstep the mark?

In terms of content, it is no secret that there are differences of opinion between Eroğlu and Talat. Talat stands by the texts that he has signed along with Greek Cypriot leader Christofias. It is not clear whether Eroğlu will be bound by such undertakings. Most crucially, while Talat seeks a settlement with the Greek Cypriot side on the basis of a federal state, Eroğlu supports a confederal solution. A further serious difference of opinion is that Talat and the Greek Cypriot side have agreed that the prospective state will be based on the principle of single sovereignty, whereas Eroğlu wishes for equal/separate sovereignty. Following the UBP’s sweeping election victory, the predominant view at the Presidential Palace is that a new era has been ushered in and that things will not proceed as smoothly as they did in the CTP era. On the other hand, the belief is that the UBP will refrain from coming into open conflict with Talat but will “bare its teeth” when it feels this to be necessary.

In considering the UBP’s room for manoeuvre, the following facts require to be taken into consideration: (1) As President, Talat remains community leader and negotiator, (2) the Turkish government is behind Talat, (3) the TRNC, dependent as it is on Turkey for everything from its security to its economy, cannot be governed irrespective of Ankara, (4) all the actors from the UN to the EU, from the USA to Britain support the settlement process.

Significantly, according to opinion polls before and after the election, the electorate put the UBP into office with a view, not to wrecking the settlement process, but to solving economic problems. However, in spite of all these facts, the “Palace” is seriously worried. The root of this worry is the fear that the UBP, irrespective of form and content, will take steps that will in practice sabotage if not wreck the settlement process. The first thing that comes to mind is that the distribution of Greek Cypriot property, suspended in the CTP era, may begin once more. This is one of the UBP’s election pledges. It is said that under such circumstances Christofias may get up from the table. The second concern is that the Property Compensation Commission, the source of much relief to the Turkish side, may be emasculated. According to a constitutional ruling the UBP lacks the authority to dissolve the above-mentioned commission but, since all procedures are conducted by the government, the UBP could if it wished bring the commission to a standstill. This could compromise the Turkish side’s standing both at the negotiating table and with the European Court of Human Rights.

Currently the trump card held by Talat and his close circle is Ankara’s, or more correctly the AKP government’s, continued support for the settlement process and insistence that, should the process collapse, the Turkish side will not be responsible for this.

Consequently, the expectation at the “Palace” is that Eroğlu and his colleagues will adopt the Turkish side’s current reconciliatory stance, perhaps even to a greater extent, in the face of the Greek Cypriot side’s intransigence and will, by emphasising this, attempt to win both the Turkish Cypriot community and Turkey over to its own line. Of course, the success of such a tactic on the part of the UBP will depend on the course of the negotiations, and in particular on the amount of material the Greek Cypriot side provides the UBP with; to the extent that the settlement process is hampered by the Greek Cypriots’ position the UBP’s voice will ring out more strongly and with greater resonance. Not only in the Turkish Cypriot community but, at the same time, among the anti-settlement and anti-EU camp in Turkey. Suppose certain people within the AKP began to lend an ear to such voices?

Archive of Turkish press translations by Tim Drayton