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Cyprus - Referendum on the reunification

Failure of the referendum on the reunification of the Island

Failure of the referendum on the reunification of the Island

24/04/2004 - Results

The Greek Cypriots voted "No" by 75.83%; only 24.17% of the population voted in favour of the peace plan. However, 64.9% Turkish Cypriots voted "Yes" to the UN plan, versus 35.1% who said they were against it. Nine Greek Cypriots in ten (89.18%) turned out to vote in this part of the island where it is obligatory to vote. This is the third reunification plan put forward by the UN (after those of 1986 and 1992) that has failed to reunify an island divided now for nearly thirty years.

"A unique, historical chance to solve Cyprus's problem has been missed", declared Alvaro de Soto, special representative for Cyprus at the UN. For its part the European Commission "deeply regretted" the rejection of the peace plan by the Greek Cypriots maintaining nevertheless, that it respected the "population's democratic decision". Brussels also "warmly congratulated the Turkish Cypriots for their vote in favour of the UN plan", whereby Europe sees "a clear desire" to end the conflict that caused the island's division. Finally Richard Boucher, spokesperson for the American State Department, congratulated "all those who voted in approval of the plan - particularly the greater majority of the Turkish Cypriots - for their courage and their vote for peace and reconciliation", and he regretted "the rejection of Kofi Annan's plan by the Greek Cypriots".

On May 1st only the Republic of Cyprus (Greek) will integrate the European Union. The Green Line, the line that separates the two Cypriot entities will therefore become the external frontier of the Union and might also now be more difficult for the Turkish Cypriots who want to go to the South of the island to cross. The European Foreign Affairs Ministers who are meeting Monday and Tuesday of this week in Luxembourg to review the various last minute preparatory measures for Enlargement are also to examine the various means to set in place in order to help the Turkish Cypriots. "It will be a combination of financial aid and commercial measures to facilitate the economic development of the North and to help the Turkish Cypriots emerge from their economic isolation", declared Jean-Christophe Filori, spokesperson for the Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen. Turkish Cypriots might then witness the granting of a part of the 250 million euros promised by Brussels if there was an agreement to reunification. The European Union is now obliged to make a decision quickly since as soon as the Republic of Cyprus enters the Union on 1st May it might use its power to veto to prevent any measures in favour of the Turkish Cypriots.

Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations said he was also in favour of measures to help the North of the island. Finally the USA said that the Turkish Cypriots "would not be abandoned".

"This evening there is neither a winner nor a loser. I call on the Greek and Turkish Cypriots to work together aiming towards a united Cyprus. The road will not be easy but that will not make us give up", declared the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Tassos Papadopoulos, who, like the main political movement on the island, the Progressive Workers' Party (Akel), had called for a refusal of the peace plan, a much regretted decision on the part of the entire international community. "Today's result must be a catalyst for reunification and not be used as an excuse for more division. We are not saying 'no' to a solution, we are saying 'no' to this specific peace plan", added Tassos Papadopoulos.

Neither the pressure from the international community "There is no other plan. There are no magic means to satisfy the maximum of requests on one side and the other at the same time", repeated Kofi Annan during a speech that was broadcast by the Cypriot TV channel; nor the 2 million euros promised to finance the reunification, succeeded in convincing the Greek Cypriots to say "yes" to the UN peace plan. The maintenance of a reduced contingent of Turkish soldiers until an undisclosed date and the exemptions for the free circulation of people, that were nevertheless guaranteed by the EU comprised inadmissible proposals in the opinion of the Greek Cypriots. They also believed that Kofi Annan's peace plan presented no firm guarantee and that it confirmed the recognition of the Turkish invasion of July 1974. Since they were sure of their entry into the EU they had nothing to lose in this referendum whilst their neighbours in the North, who are frustrated by decades of international isolation, had everything to win from reunification.

Turkish Cypriots are, disappointed by the results of the referendum in the South of the island. By voting widely in favour of the Kofi Annan plan they positioned themselves on the side of peace and the future. "Turkish Cypriots can no longer be considered as being separatists or intransigent", declared Mehmet Ali Talat, Prime Minister of the Northern part of the island.

This referendum also comprised the second failure in four months for the President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Rauf Denktash; after his party's defeat in the general elections on 14th December last - that made him appoint one of his opponents as head of government, pro-European Mehmet Ali Talat. Although the Turkish Cypriots might see in Saturday's results a snub for the President (some even demonstrated on Saturday night demanding his resignation) Rauf Denktash maintained that the failure to reunify justified his position and strengthened him in his post.

Turkish Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gül (Justice and Development Party, AKP), said that he was "dismayed" at the referendum results in the South of the island. The head of Turkish diplomacy has requested the lifting of international sanctions against the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus that, according to him, "has shown its will to achieve a settlement of the division by voting 'yes'". The Turks, who have made their accession to the European Union their main objective, had positioned itself on the side of the international community by agreeing to the UN peace plan, since they realised that both the future of the island and their future candidature to the EU were at stake. The head of the Turkish army, General Hilmi Ozkök, had himself appealed last week to leave the decision to the Turkish Cypriots and the Parliament in Ankara. Turkish business men had also committed themselves to the UN peace plan and published on 21st April last an advert in the Turkish press in declaration of their support for the solution put forward by Kofi Annan. "Political and economic priorities of Turkey and the Greek Cypriots demand a solution on the island and on accession to the EU", they wrote.

Via Theodoris Roussopoulos, the government spokesperson, the Greeks did not condemn the Greek Cypriots, unlike their European partners, but simply announced their desire "to work towards leaving the procedure open to finding a final settlement", and maintained Athens's support to Nicosia, emphasising that the Greek Cypriot decision "should be respected by all". Prime Minister Costas Caramanlis (New Democracy, ND) had expressed cautious support of the UN peace plan last week.

Costas Caramanlis will receive his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan (AKP) in a few days time. He mentioned once again his desire to continue and increase relations between the two countries. PASOK the main opposition party assured the head of the Greek government of its support in this initiative.

The referendum results comprise a failure for the entire international community, for the UN and also for the European Union that inherits the burdensome issue of the island's division. The hopes of reunification are now at a standstill. A strong will and a true feeling for negotiation will be necessary for both parties to succeed in talking to one another again and to come to an agreement on a new reunification plan. "If there is no solution at the end of the month there won't be one for a very, very long time", maintained Günter Verheugen on 15th April last. Let us hope that the failure on 24th April will rapidly be surpassed as it is true that Europe comprises the future of all Cypriots.

Results of the referendum of the reunification of Cyprus on 24th April



Republic of Cyprus

Participation: 89,18% (it is obligatory to vote)

Source: Agence France Presse


Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus



Participation: 87%

Source: Agence France Presse
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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