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Erdogan-backed Tatar wins shock victory in North Cyprus presidential poll

Right-wing nationalist Ersin Tatar favours two-state solution for Mediterranean island and says 'they will never tear the ties between us and Turkey'
Turkish Cypriot President Ersin Tatar celebrates with supporters after winning the North Cyprus presidential election, in Nicosia, 18 October 2020 (AFP)

Ersin Tatar, the Ankara-backed candidate, has won a surprise victory in the presidential election in Northern Cyrpus, with all votes counted, according to official media.

Tatar, 60, who had been endorsed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, took 51.73 percent of the vote, with a 67.3 percent voter turnout, said Narin Ferdi Sefik, head of the electoral board. 

'I congratulate Ersin Tatar who has been elected president … Turkey will continue to provide all types of efforts to protect the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people'

- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Tatar, a right-wing nationalist, favours a two-state solution for the tiny Mediterranean island. His rival for the presidency, the incumbent President Mustafa Akinci, a 72-year-old social democrat who had been expected to win, had supported a united federal Cypriot state.

In his victory speech, Tatar thanked Erdogan.

"They will never tear the ties between us and Turkey," he said.

"In light of the approval we received, it is the preference of our people in all disputes to lay claim to our own state, to lay claim to our land and lay claim to the guarantorship of Turkey," Tatar added.

"Yes, we are open to an agreement with Cyprus, but the Turkish Cypriot people will accept the terms of this agreement with a free will."

The result was quickly welcomed by Erdogan.

"I congratulate Ersin Tatar who has been elected president," the Turkish president wrote on Twitter. "Turkey will continue to provide all types of efforts to protect the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people."

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In a first round on 11 October, Tatar had won 32 percent of the vote ahead of Akinci, who garnered just under 30 percent in a field of 11 candidates.

The island has been split along ethnic lines between an internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government in the south and the breakaway Turkish north since the 1974 Turkish invasion.

The north was occupied by Turkey in reaction to a coup that aimed to annex Cyprus to Greece.

Since unilaterally declaring independence in 1983, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is financially supported by Turkey, is only recognised by Ankara.

Analysts believe that the presidential vote will prove to be decisive in determining the future of the island.

'Erdogan will get what he wants'

Before the poll results, Mete Hatay, a political analyst from the PRIO bicommunal research centre, had claimed that North Cyprus could become a protectorate of Turkey if Tatar was elected - something “even secessionists don’t want”.

“It’s become like a referendum in absolute submission to Turkey and demanding respect from Turkey,” Hatay had said.

“In Erdogan’s mind, the peace plan is finished. From now on, he favours partition! Perhaps even annexation!” wrote prominent Turkish writer Fehim Tastekin on the news website Gazete Duvar earlier this month.

“If we lose this election, it means Erdogan will get what he wants. If Erdogan is serious about annexation then that’s what will happen,” said Mine Atli, a volunteer with Akinci’s campaign.

“I think he wants a kind of settlement that will maintain his power in the Mediterranean,” she added.