Voters gave opposition parties a slight lead in votes over the governing coalition, but when this was translated into seats in the 50-member parliament, the two blocks emerged neck and neck.
However, with opposition members in favour of negotiating the latest UN plan for reuniting the island, and the governing parties campaigning against it, the elections were also a referendum on the future of the island itself.
“The message given by the voters,” says Nuri Akman, a local columnist, “is that they want something to change, but they’re still not sure about how much.”
The island has been de facto divided since Turkish troops intervened in 1974 following a coup backed by Athens designed to unite Cyprus with Greece.
The UN, European Union, UK and US have all since been involved in efforts to reunite the two parts but these attempts have always come to nothing.
Last December, however, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan launched a new initiative, known as the Annan Plan.
“The election shows that Turkish Cypriots are coming around more to the idea that the government should be active in finding some sort of solution,” says Professor Iltar Turan, of Istanbul’s Bilgi University.
“They’re saying that they want to go in the direction of the Annan Plan, with reservations,” he added.
Serdar Denktas’ Democrat
The plan proposed that the Turkish Cypriot north and the Greek Cypriot south should come together as a single state, but with both parts retaining a great degree of local autonomy – and with recognition that both have some sovereignty.
However, the president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus – which is not recognised by any state except Turkey – described the plan as highly dangerous, raising the prospect that the Turkish Cypriots – who constitute a minority to the Greek Cypriots on the island – would face ethnic cleansing if the island were joined together again.
In the run up to the elections, President Rauf Denktas called the plan “a crime against humanity”.
Yet, with the Greek Cypriot part of the island set to join the European Union in May 2004, many Turkish Cypriots have begun to consider the Annan Plan favourably.
“In the last elections,” recalls Turan, “the governing parties won 67.5% of the vote. This time, they got 46%. The result therefore doesn’t show Turkish Cypriots divided 50:50, but rather that there has been a major transformation in the way Turkish Cypriots think since the last vote.”
It is a point the opposition parties are quick to agree with.
Ozdil Nami, who was elected for the main winners in the ballot, the leftist opposition Republican Turkish Party (CTP), told AlJazeera.net, “The results are a big success for us. We ran a campaign in favour of the Annan Plan and EU membership. Meanwhile, the parties running against these lost a big share of the vote.”
Prime Minister Dervis Eroglu, the leader of the largest party in the former government, the National Unity Party (UBP), blamed international pressure for his party’s loss of votes.
Mehmet Ali Talat is not in favour
“We somewhat competed with the world,” he told reporters, pointing the finger at statements from US and EU officials in the run up to the ballot that advocated support for the opposition and agreement with the Annan Plan.
Eroglu also said he had discussed the results with President Denktas, saying, “We have evaluated the election results briefly. I cannot say he is pleased.”
It may now be Rauf Denktas’ son, Serdar, who holds the key to what can happen next.
Serdar is head of the Democrat Party (DP), the junior partner in the previous governing block, which came fourth in Sunday’s elections. It had been widely expected to continue supporting the UBP, leaving the parliament deadlocked.
“During the campaign,” says Nami, “the DP said that while they disagreed with the Annan Plan, they did still see it as something that could be negotiated. They didn’t reject it out of hand.”
This has led to some speculation that the DP might lend its support to the opposition parties and open the way for them to form a government.
“By accepting the Annan plan as a starting point, the DP may open the way for negotiations to start,” says Turan.
A DP spokesman declined to comment on the issue to Aljazeera.net, saying that the party executive would meet Tuesday morning to discuss its future direction.
Turkish Cypriot voters have sent
The opposition have also said they will drop Rauf Denktas as chief negotiator for the Turkish Cypriots when they come to power. This may place a heavy burden on Serdar if he allows the opposition in.
Whether the DP gives the opposition block the support it needs to form a government or not may also depend a great deal on the government in Ankara.
“Ankara is always a very important factor for Turkish Cyprus,” Turan continues. “It is after all, the main supporter of the Turkish Cypriots.”
The opposition also blames Ankara for giving the impression during the campaign that Turkey favoured the UBP and Rauf Denktas.
“The Turkish deputy prime minister came here just before the voting,” says Nami. “He announced all sorts of schemes to help Turkish Cyprus.
“People here listened to that and got the message that Ankara was against the Annan Plan. Voters needed a clear signal from Ankara that voting for change would be ok – they didn’t get this.”
With Turkey stationing 30,000 troops on the island, and providing Turkish Cyprus with a major economy saving grant, its influence is enormous.
Yet, Turkey also hopes to join the EU – and Brussels has said that this might be difficult if there is no a solution to the Cyprus problem.
“I think the ball is in Ankara’s court right now,” says Nami. “If they feel they want to solve the Cyprus problem before the Greek part joins the EU in May next year, I think a coalition [involving the DP] might be formed.”
But if no such will exists, “we will face another election in two months’ time,” adds Nami.
What might happen then is anyone’s guess.
“We’re watching and waiting. A lot depends on the next few days”
“The message Turkish Cypriots gave this time was, ‘yes we want a solution’, but ‘we also have concerns about the Annan Plan and we want these addressed’,” says Nami. “Clearly, as the opposition we have to take this onboard.”
“This result may also give the Turkish Cypriots exactly what they want,” adds Turan. “On the one hand, there is no clear mandate to go ahead with the Annan Plan, but on the other, there is no grounds to reject it. This may give them a stronger negotiating position.”
They may also calculate that a second election will give them an increased majority. However, CTP leader Mehmet Ali Talat told reporters on Monday “another election would be risky”.
Turkish Cypriots are now waiting to see what comes out of the tense negotiations between the parties over the next few days.
“We’re watching and waiting,” says Mine Ertani, a student from Famagusta. “A lot depends on the next few days.”