Cyprus Irony: Far-Right Rise Pushing Unity Hopes

NICOSIA – The entry into Parliament by a far-right group opposed to unity with Turks on Cyprus could provide an impetus for a resolution.

The ELAM party took two seats in the 56-member Parliament in what was seen as a protest against ruling parties and harsh austerity measures but also an indicator about resumed unity talks that Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and his Turkish counterpart, Mustafa Akinci, hope will bring a solution by the end of the year.

Analysts told the news agency Reuters that the process could now be accelerated before critics and ELAM make any more headway or gain support that could undermine the fragile talks and upset hopes to unify the island divided since an unlawful Turkish invasion in 1974.

Turkey still keeps a 30,000-man standing army in the northern third it unlawfully occupies and which only it recognizes and refuses to recognize Cyprus or admit its ships and planes while hoping to become a member of the European Union, which Cyprus already is.

While the vote in the May 22 elections won’t change the government and was seen more of a protest against Anastasiades for reneging on campaign promises not to confiscate bank accounts, it could jeopardize the unity talks even as the EU has moved to appease Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, offering a fast-track entry as part of a refugee swap deal.

Cypriot unity talks have been a graveyard for a raft of diplomats and envoys from the United States, Europe and United Nations for four decades. The UN’s current representative Norway’s Espen Barth Eide has predicted a breakthrough frequently with no evidence to back it up other than wishing and hoping.

After the election of the moderate Akinci last year, and the withdrawal by Turkey of a warship and energy research vessel from Cypriot waters, there was renewed optimism for an answer with Anastasiades offering concessions – too many, his critics said.

Anastasiades and Akinci have said this could be the last chance to unify the island. The Cypriot President’s term expires in 2018, so the talks need to move forward before another year of electioneering begins, James Ker-Lindsay, a Senior Research Fellow at the London School of Economics who focuses on southeast Europe.

“If he is really serious, this is where he should come out and say this is the task at hand and move forward,” Ker-Lindsay told Reuters.

“There has been a certain tailing-off in talks in recent months. But now the election is out of the way it’s an opportunity to move forward” before negativity seeps in over the perceptibly slow pace of talks, he added.

Political analyst Hubert Faustmann told the news agency he agreed. “If they haven’t made a major breakthrough by the end of the year, we are done. I don’t see it happening next year,” he said.

Anastasiades’s right-wing Democratic Rally party lost 3.7 points, or two seats, in the election, while Communist AKEL lost 7.1 points, or three seats. Both parties have a moderate stance on the Cyprus question.

Rival parties who said Anastasiades is selling out the country made gains, undercutting his position just as he said the talks need momentum.

Opponents to the idea of a bi-zonal Federal solution said it violates freedom of movement and settlement, a key EU principle, because it would keep two states, a Turkish one and a Greek one, where there would be quotas on ethnic populations.

ELAM has been involved in violence against Turkish Cypriots and some of its members stormed a lecture by former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat in 2014,  a hardliner.

Cyprus still is divided, with a UN-buffer zone Green Line splitting the island, although travel is allowed between the sides with people passing checkpoints.

“I have a lot of confidence in social control in Cyprus,” said Faustmann. “We know it only takes a few idiots to mess things up. Cyprus is no exception to the rule, but I don’t see it happening.”

Akinci, the Turkish Cypriot leader, avoided any reference to ELAM in a statement after the election but also focused on the need to push ahead in the peace talks, saying it was “time to act responsibly”.

“All attention should now be directed towards the efforts for solving the Cyprus problem,” he said.