Hardliners win Turkish Cypriot elections

Right-wing hardliners won parliamentary elections on Sunday, taking 44 percent of the votes. This could hinder peace talks with Greek Cypriots, which are decisive to Turkey's EU membership ambitions.


AFP - Hardline nationalists won in Turkish Cypriot elections on Sunday, taking almost 44 percent of votes, according to results announced in the internationally isolated breakaway state.

The right-wing National Unity Party (UBP) led the way in the parliamentary election while the centre-left Republican Turkish Party (CTP) of Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmed Ali Talat lost power, scoring 29 percent.

The conservative Democratic Party came in third with 10.7 percent. Two left-wing parties secured about six percent each, passing the required five-percent threshold to win parliamentary representation.

Officials said completed results were in from all 620 polling stations in the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is recognised only by Ankara.

Ferdi Sabit Soyer, CTP chief and current premier, conceded defeat on Sunday.

The result was in line with opinion polls, which had anticipated the major gains by the UBP -- which favours close links with Turkey -- and the defeat of Talat's centre-left CTP.

The result meant that the UBP would be able to form a government without seeking coalition support as its victory should translate into control of 26 of the parliament's 50 seats, doubling its presence.

The CTP's share of seats meanwhile falls from 25 to 15.

UBP leader Dervis Eroglu moved quickly to reassure the international community that reunification talks on the divided island would continue.

"Continuing the reunification negotiations is one of the priorities of the UBP," the nationalist ex-premier told reporters as the results came in. The UBP would support Talat's role as negotiator, he said.

There had been fears that a strong nationalist comeback could hinder UN efforts to reunify divided Cyprus -- an EU member since 2004 -- amid growing distrust of Talat's policy of reconciliation with the majority Greek Cypriots.

The Greek Cypriots run the internationally recognised government on the eastern Mediterranean island.

Talat too, had been positive about the future of the talks, as he cast his vote earlier Sunday.

"I don't think that the results of the election will influence the future of negotiations," he said in the coastal town of Kyrenia.

But while Talat will remain the chief negotiator in peace talks with Cyprus President Demetris Christofias, analysts predict that his bargaining power will be reduced.

Voter discontent has been fuelled by the global financial crisis that has hit hard in northern Cyprus, which depends on Turkey for most of its economic needs.

Sunday's election comes almost five years to the day since Turkish Cypriots voted in a 2004 referendum overwhelmingly in favour of a UN plan to reunify Cyprus after three decades of division.

Greek Cypriots rejected the peace blueprint in a separate referendum, however, and a still divided Cyprus joined the European Union a week later, in May 2004.

A year later Talat succeeded hardliner Rauf Denktash as Turkish Cypriot leader.

Talat, who met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, has set a target date of April 2010, when a presidential election is due in northern Cyprus, for a settlement.

Talat and Christofias, both regarded as "progressive" in efforts to end the 35-year division, have been holding UN-sponsored reunification talks since September.

UN envoy Alexander Downer said last week they had made "real progress."

Christofias has warned that the negotiations could founder in the event of a UBP victory. "If we cannot resolve things with this man (Talat)... I don't know if we will ever be able to solve them," he said.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded and seized its northern third in response to an Athens-engineered Greek Cypriot coup to unite the island with Greece.

Turkey has at least 30,000 troops on Cyprus and refuses to establish diplomatic relations with the republic until a settlement is reached.

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