BHHRG sent observers to monitor the conduct of the election itself held on 14th December 2003. As TRNC is an unrecognised state, official monitoring organizations like the OSCE as well as EU bodies were unwilling to send representatives to observe the poll. However, a group from the University of Oslo had been in TRNC for several months monitoring the campaign and a small number of German SPD MPs (including a member of Turkish Cypriot origin) attended the election itself. There were also two British observers, acknowledged supporters of TRNC.
7 parties contested the 50 seats in TRNC’s parliament. Elections are conducted by a complicated system of proportional representation which allows not only a vote for the bloc but also a preferential vote which can be for candidates from other parties. There is a 5% threshold for entry into parliament. By polling day, 141,479 electors had been registered.
For many years, TRNC had been governed by a coalition led by the National Unity Party (UBP). The party had often been at odds with President Denktaş, but basically supported TRNC sovereignty. It also later opposed the Annan Plan. The leading opposition party, the Republican Turkish Party (CTP), is, effectively, the reformed Communist Party and as such has enjoyed good relations with AKEL, the Communist Party in the Greek south. CTP’s leader, Mehmet Ali Talat, was courted by the West and even dispatched to study international relations at TRNC’s Near Eastern University, presumably to acquaint him with the niceties of new world order thinking.
The parties with the next layer of support were the Peace and Democracy Party (BDH), the most EU-enthusiastic party in the country, and the Democratic Party (DP), a milder version of the UBP, led by Denktaş’s son, Serdar, which had been in coalition with the UBP in the outgoing government. The DP remained somewhat non-committal in its stand on Annan and presented itself as open to negotiation while maintaining an underlying hostility to the plan. Smaller parties like the Solution and EU Party (CABP) of Ari Erel failed to surmount the 5% threshold for entry into parliament, as did the Cyprus Justice Party (KAP) and the Nationalist Peace Party (MBP). It is probably true to say that some of these parties managed to split the vote – cutting into support for the UBP in particular. Both the KAP and MBP were opposed to the Annan Plan.
The streets of Lefkosa overflowed with symbols and posters emblazoned with the EU stars - the BDH had the most extravagant EU campaign. Its offices, just around the corner from the British Council in Lefkosa’s ‘Mayfair’ district, lent credence to the rumours that the UK had provided funding to the party – the EU itself had been giving large sums of money to Mr. Erel’s local Chamber of Commerce for some time. However, the foreign funding of political parties is not illegal under TRNC law.
Most of the media was pro-unification led by Asil Nadir’s Kibris media group comprising TRNC’s leading newspaper, Kibris, and Kibris television as well as Genc TV. However, at the time of the election state television was in the hands of the UBP/DP coalition government, which opposed the Annan Plan. Although all parties agreed that they had been provided with the requisite time for their political advertisements, the opposition complained about state TV’s bias in the amount of time given in discussion and news programmes to the anti-Annan forces.
While agreeing that the balance had been restored by Kibris and Genc TV’s programming, CTP spokesmen still complained that these stations could not be received in all parts of the island – for example, on the Karpas peninsula. At a post-election press meeting with Chief Justice Erginel, Norwegian monitors from Oslo University refused to include the input of the private media in their assessment of the balance of pre-election media coverage. TRNC state TV is less slick and much less popular with the public than Mr. Nadir’s Kibris and Genc stations, meaning that the latter are more effective tools of propaganda. However, these experts claimed that their ‘mandates’ only allowed them to monitor state TV.
BHHRG observed the voting in (Girne) Kyrenia, Gűzelyurt (Morphu), (Lapta) Lapithos and Lefkosa. They also interviewed the Chief Justice Erginel, head of the High Election Board, and party activists, including representatives of the victorious TCP party. Polling took place without problems and there were no complaints on the ground about the voter registers despite criticism from opposition activists during the pre-election period. Although the election was about the general political orientation of TRNC, most voters accepted the sous texte – that they were indirectly endorsing (or rejecting) the Annan Plan which would lead to the island’s reunification and their membership of the EU.
BHHRG was especially interested in how the plan might be received in Gűzelyurt which is targeted for wholesale return of its former Greek population and the resettlement of its present population. The town - Morphu in Greek - is home to a major orthodox church, St Mamas, but has fallen on hard times and is now populated by large numbers of settlers from mainland Turkey. Many of these people told BHHRG that they approved of the plan and were happy to move – of course, they assumed that they would be provided with adequate, ideally better, accommodation by international donations from the bodies like the EU.
As the results were broadcast on a large screen set up in Ataturk Square, the fortunes of the leading parties swung perilously from one to the other. By midnight, it appeared that the CTP had won the largest share of the vote. But, when the count was completed, including the preferential votes, the final result showed a dead heat with no overall winner. Many people who voted for the opposition had probably expressed their unease by giving their preferential vote to the parties supporting Denktaş.
This meant that the opposition’s victory was underwhelming, to say the least. The result was a dead heat in terms of the number of seats won, but the CTP gained the highest percentage of the votes (35.18%). The former governing parties’ strong showing meant that Talat’s ambition to remove Denktaş as negotiator on the Plan was not going to be straightforward and that support for the Annan solution was much less robust than previously thought. However, Talat was appointed prime minister and with the government now in the hands of pro-settlement parties the state media’s previous opposition to the plan ended. This was to be a significant development when it came to the referendum in April 2004.
Talat’s position at home was made less complicated by the position taken by Ankara. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogen had already voiced his support for a negotiated solution which was seen as a condition for the fulfilment of Turkey’s long-term ambition – membership of the EU. In the months following the 2003 poll, Erdogan expressed support for the Annan Plan, even managing to freeze out Denktaş as TRNC’s main negotiator.
 Fiachra Gibbons ‘We know we can live together’ The Guardian, 1st May, 2004, www.guardian.co.uk, http://www.trncinfo.com/TANITMADAIRESI/ARSIV2003/ENGLISHarcive/DECEMBER/041203.htm.