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Hardliner candidate wins Northern Cyprus election

Prime Minister Ersin Tatar won a runoff vote to become president of Northern Cyprus on Sunday, a result that could diminish prospects for reunification of the divided island.

According to official results, Tatar secured 51.74 percent of the vote in the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is only recognized by Turkey, while incumbent Mustafa Akıncı won 48.26 percent.

The conservative Tatar was considered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s favorite to win. His victory is expected to cede even more control of Northern Cyprus’ internal affairs to Ankara and hamper efforts to a solve to the Cyprus dispute.

Turkey’s 1974 invasion, which came in response to a Greece-backed coup in Cyprus, split the island along ethnic lines, creating a Turkish Cypriot north and a Greek Cypriot south. Ankara does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus, an EU member country that is otherwise recognized internationally as the sole sovereign authority over the whole island. Several attempts to find a compromise settlement over the years have failed.

Akıncı is a proponent of reunification under the auspices of the United Nations, while Tatar mirrors Turkey’s views and has spoken in favor of a two-state solution.

Erdoğan took to his official Twitter account to congratulate Tatar on Sunday, adding that “Turkey will continue to make all necessary efforts to defend the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people.” 

“The results reflect the free and sovereign will of the Turkish Cypriot people,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We will continue to work in close coordination with all the institutions of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, to support the sovereign equality of the Turkish Cypriots, who are the common owners of the island.” 

Tatar declared victory in a speech to his supporters and thanked Erdoğan for the support.

“As of today, the tensions [between Turkey and Turkish Cypriots] have ended,” he said.

On the eve of the presidential elections, Akıncı said he had received death threats from Turkish officials, warning him to withdraw his candidacy.

On Sunday, Akıncı conceded defeat to his opponent but suggested irregularities in the election in a speech to supporters.

“I guess there is no one left that hasn’t seen what happened. If we call this a choice that happened under normal circumstances, we are not telling the truth,” he said, adding that this was the end of his 45-year political career.

Turkey has made clear it didn’t want to see Akıncı reelected. The incumbent lost the Turkish government’s favor earlier this year, when he described the idea of Northern Cyprus being annexed by Turkey as “horrible,” prompting a stern rebuke from Ankara.

“Tatar will continue to have federal negotiations, however, he will be more strict on the parameters and the deadlines,” said Ali Cinar, a lecturer at Istanbul Aydin University at the Institute of Social Sciences.

Cinar said that since Northern Cyprus relies so much on Turkey economically and otherwise, Ankara would have played a key role at the negotiation table for seeking a resolution to the dispute, no matter the outcome of the vote. 

“There is no solution without Turkey,” he said.

Tatar appears to have benefited from a higher turnout in the runoff at 67 percent, compared to 55 percent in the first round, a record low.

Strained relations on the island could also have implications in EU-Turkish relations. Turkey, Greece and Cyprus are fiercely at odds over potential offshore gas and oil reserves. In recent months, tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean region have heightened with Turkey conducting exploratory work and drilling in waters that Greece and Cyprus consider their own. 

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