"Presidential Elections" in Cyprus (Series) Part 1: Historical Overview

by Amanda Naldjieff // Published April 17, 2010

       Hi all! I'm a student at American University in their Spring ’10 Washington Semester Program for Peace and Conflict Resolution and as a part of my program we traveled to Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey for some experiential learning and on-sight field work. The blog series I present to you is a four-part travel journal I compiled while out of the country. I tried my best to include all the most vital information necessary for a brief, comprehensive understanding. I hope you enjoy it and continue to follow Cyprus’ progress as an island. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me.         Peace!

       REPORT: Tomorrow’s election in Cyprus is being received with feelings of both excitement and dread. The elections will mark the end of an intense period of negotiations between President Demetris Christofias (South) and  "President" Mehmet Ali Talat (North), as well as the possible beginning of an era headed toward independence for the North as a sovereign and separate state from the established and EU-recognized southern state of Cyprus depending on the results of the election.

       BACKGROUND: The island of Cyprus, previously a territory of Britain as a result of an agreement with the Ottoman Empire following the Congress of Berlin in 1878, was released from its colonial imperialism in 1923 under the Treaty of Lausanne. In 1960, under the London-ZÏ‹rich Agreement, Cyprus was granted its independence and, with the help of its mother-fatherlands of Greece and Turkey, was given a constitutional framework. This framework recognized the equality of the two communities occupying the island – Greek and Turkish Cypriots – and established a unique and specifically-formulated government structure that would reflect its population. Britain, Greece, and Turkey were given the power to intervene on the island at any time, in order to preserve its territorial independence, in the Treaty of Guarantee that was established under the London-ZÏ‹rich Agreement.

       In 1963, a Greek-staged coup d’état took place and the Cypriot ‘Civil War’ broke out, resulting in a constitutional breakdown, which led to Turkey’s ‘intervention’ on the island with the execution of its guarantor powers.  It was as a result of this that the island became divided in two halves, including the division of its capital Nicosia – which remains the only divided capital in the world. Additionally, in 1983 the Northern area declared itself independent from the recognized South and re-named itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” or TRNC. The state is not internationally recognized by any country except Turkey, which also contributes substantially to the financial stability of the region and acts as a middle-man for international trade. As a whole, Cyprus was accepted as a European Union member in 2004 with all respective rights and privileges suspended in the North until reunification could be achieved.

       GOVERNMENT: Cyprus, as formulated and implemented by Britain, Greece, and Turkey in the 1960 London-ZÏ‹rich Agreement, is a Semi-Presidential Representative Democratic Republic. The constitution calls for government representation that would parallel the proportionality of the population; therefore, the President would be a Greek Cypriot because of their majority, and the Vice President would be a Turkish-Cypriot. Furthermore, the Legislative Assembly of the Republic consisting of fifty members would be elected by proportional representation from its’ five electoral districts. Proportional Representation (PR) is a voting system aimed at securing a close match between the percentage of votes a group of candidates obtains and the percentage of seats they receive. This system is often used in contrast to plurality voting systems. It is also important to note that Cyprus uses a multi-party system and presidential elections are held every five years.

       A turning point in Cypriot government and history that is worthy of further mention is the 1963 change of parliamentary representation. It is heavily debated as to whether the Turkish Cypriots were forced to give up their seats or whether they voluntarily vacated them as a result of their disagreement with former President and Archbishop Makarios’ changes of the constitution. Either way, it resulted in a change that was unrepresentative of the mixed population. It was during this time that the line delineating the two regions of Cyprus became more apparent and in 1964 the United Nations established a buffer zone separating the communities. From this point forth, separate regions, communities, perspectives, and governments were established.

Stay tuned for the second part of my travel journal that will feature a more detailed background on the Presidential candidates and the direction of their platforms!