The election of Ersin Tatar as President of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) has left behind not one, but two vacancies: TRNC Prime Minister and leader of the National Unity Party (UBP).
Five candidates have put themselves forward to be the next UBP leader. The winning candidate will not only head North Cyprus’ largest party, but also become the new Prime Minister.
Ordinarily, with the elevation of Ersin Tatar to TRNC President, his job as Prime Minister would automatically pass to the Deputy Prime Minister until a new UBP leader was selected. However, due to the extraordinary situation in the TRNC, that has not been possible.
UBP’s junior coalition partner the People’s Party (HP) withdrew from the government just days before the TRNC Presidential Election, in protest at Prime Minister Tatar failing to consult them prior to announcing the symbolic re-opening of abandoned seaside resort Maraş / Varosha. Many commentators viewed it as an election tactic.
The development particularly grated with TRNC Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Kudret Özersay. The HP leader has been championing the opening of the Maraş in advance of a comprehensive political settlement in Cyprus since 2015. Mr. Özersay was also a candidate in the Presidential Election, but was knocked out in the first round.
Mr Özersay has refused to become the stand-in Prime Minister, informing President Tatar that HP will carry out their constitutional duties until such time that a new government is formed. He has suggested the role of caretaker Prime Minister is handed to a member of the ruling UBP to ensure there is no break in governance, which would be unconstitutional.
The UBP Executive have decided against appointing a temporary leader. Instead, they are pushing for immediate leadership elections, with a ballot of members set to take place at an Extraordinary General Meeting of the party this weekend, on Saturday 31 October.
Up to 12,000 party members are eligible to vote. Should no candidate secure over 50% of the vote, there will be a run-off the following week, on Saturday 7 November, between the two candidates who secured the most votes in round one.
Five candidates have declared their intention to stand in the UBP leadership race: Lefkoşa MPs Hasan Taçoy and Faiz Sucuoğlu, Girne MP Ünal Üstel, İskele MP Nazım Çavuşoğlu, and Gazimağusa MP Dursun Oğuz.
All five have ministerial experience, with four candidates currently serving in the government. Mr Taçoy, aged 57, is the Economy and Energy Minister. Mr Dursun Oğuz, 54, is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Minister. Mr Çavuşoğlu, 55, is Education Minister, and Mr Sucuoğlu, 59, is the Labour and Social Security Minister.
Previously the Minister of Tourism and the Environment, Mr Üstel was sacked by PM Tatar in June after he was embroiled in the ‘private jet’ scandal. The 65-year-old former minster had given “special permission” for a delegation of 13 people to fly into North Cyprus from Antalya, Turkey, on 12 June, and bypass the country’s strict quarantine rules, causing uproar on and off the island after the news was leaked to the press.
Mr Üstel had initially claimed the trip was about “investment in tourism” by a leading Turkish businessman. When it became clear the trip was for leisure purposes, his position as minister became untenable.
Main image, top, are the 5 candidates standing to be the next leader of the National Unity Party (UBP). From top left, clockwise: Dursun Oğuz, Hasan Taçoy Nazım Çavuşoğlu, Faiz Sucuoğlu, and Ünal Üstel