Nearly 200,000 Turkish Cypriots will choose from eleven candidates, with a fragile peace deal at stake.
Turkish Cypriots in the north of the divided island – the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus – began electing a new president on Sunday.
Nearly 200,000 voters will choose from 11 candidates, including independent incumbent Mustafa Akinci and Prime Minister Ersin Tatar of the conservative National Unity Party (UBP).
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 following a Turkish military intervention in response to a Greece-inspired coup in the south.
The most recent United Nations-brokered peace negotiations failed in 2017 and the talks have made no progress since then.
Akinci supports the unification of the island, while Tatar, supported by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, advocates a two-state solution.
If no candidate gets an absolute majority, a runoff is scheduled for October 18th.
Last week, Tatar exposed cracks in his coalition government when he announced the partial opening of Varosha, a Turkey-controlled former resort in Famagusta, 46 years after it became a ghost town.
Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Kudret Ozersay, who is also a presidential candidate, resigned in protest.
Ozersay’s coalition partner, the People’s Party, also withdrew from government.
The partial opening of Varosha on Thursday dealt a blow to the already strained relations between Northern Cyprus and the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus.
Famagusta in the east has remained a symbol of division.
When Turkish tanks advanced on the city in August 1974, around 40,000 Greek residents fled Varosha. Since then, the area has remained uninhabited.
The return of Varosha to its former Greek Cypriot residents was seen as the key to solving the Cyprus mystery.
The partial opening is an “irreversible” step towards the full opening, Tatar said at a press conference in Ankara this week, where Erdogan was present.
On Saturday, the UN Security Council expressed “deep concern” about the reopening and called for it to be reversed, while warning of “unilateral action that could create tension on the island”.
The vote is also taking place at a time of increasing tension between Turkey and Greece over the dispute over maritime rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
Tensions escalated this summer when each side made clashing claims over parts of the eastern Mediterranean and Turkey dispatched a survey vessel with warships to investigate possible prospects for oil and gas drilling, furious Greece.
Greece sent its own warships to the region and put its armed forces on alert.
Turkey left the ship in mid-September. The two NATO countries have deployed naval and air forces to assert their competing claims in the region.