Turkey threatened Northern Cyprus presidential contenders, former leader claims

Mustafa Akinci has accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of running a campaign against him in October elections

By Ragip Soylu
17 June 2021
photo: AFP

The former president of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus claimed on Wednesday that Turkish government agents had threatened and attempted to pressure him and other candidates into withdrawing from the presidential race ahead of elections last October.

“They told my private secretary that it would be better for myself, my family, close friends and everyone to withdraw from the race,” Mustafa Akinci, who lost the elections with 48 percent of the votes, told Turkish news outlet T24. “They said that every scheme was underway to defeat me in the elections and even if I won, I wouldn’t have been able to stay in office.”

Akinci alleged that Turkish state institutions under the control of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – including the Turkish embassy in Nicosia – ran a silent campaign against him. “Erdogan wants to manage here just like he solely controls Ankara,” Akinci said.

Ersin Tatar, a Turkish nationalist close to Ankara, won in the second round of the presidential elections in October, with 51.69 percent of the votes.

Divided island

The Mediterranean island of Cyprus has been split along ethnic lines since 1974, between an internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government in the south and a breakaway northern region established following a Turkish invasion.

The north was occupied by Turkey in response to a coup that aimed to annex Cyprus to Greece. Since unilaterally declaring independence in 1983, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is financially supported by Turkey, is only recognised by Ankara.

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A report prepared by independent Turkish-Cypriot observers last week supports Akinci’s claims of interference in the election.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay’s advertising and public relations staff spent three weeks on the island to support Tatar’s campaign, according to the report, which interviewed politicians, journalists and presidential candidates.

Ankara also lent support to Tatar during the campaign by repairing a water pipeline and partially reopening the coastal town of Varosha – off-limits to civilians since the Turkish invasion – before the elections. Pro-Turkish government media also portrayed Akinci as a Greek agent and a traitor.

The observers also interviewed another presidential contender, Serdar Denktas, who claimed that Turkish government operatives – including intelligence agents – pressured him and businessmen who supported him to withdraw from the race.

Denktas, the son of the founding president of Northern Cyprus, Rauf Denktas, also alleged that his phone was tapped and that he was followed by cars with official plates during the campaign.

The report also claimed that Turkey made payments to thousands of Northern Cypriots to encourage them to vote for Tatar, who supports a two-state solution for the island rather than a federal system.

Turkey has increasingly intervened in Northern Cyprus’s domestic affairs since the elections. In April, Erdogan slammed Northern Cyprus for its court decision allegedly restricting Quran courses, threatening the allied state with unspecified steps if the judgment was not overturned.

“The Constitutional Court must first learn secularism. Northern Cyprus is not France,” he said of the decision. “They should carry Turkey’s habits into practice. [They] should quickly correct this mistake, otherwise our next steps will be different.”

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This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Published at www.middleeasteye.net