Eleni Mavrou, Mayor of Nicosia, Republic of Cyprus
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Local government in Cyprus
By Andrew Stevens
4 September 2008: For such a small territorial entity, the island of Cyprus is relatively unique in having three forms of administration under three forms of competing national sovereignties. However, since its independence from Britain in 1960, its people have coped with the burden of an international dispute through a relatively stable form of pluralistic local democracy, which has enabled them to at least serve the needs of everyday life.
| Southern Cyprus | Northern Cyprus | British sovereign bases |
The legacy of British rule often leaves behind vexatious and intractable territorial disputes, from demands for the reunification of Ireland to the status of Gibraltar vis-à-vis Spain. Relations between the Greek and Turkish zones on the island of Cyprus are no different, as constitutional authority Stanley de Smith once noted, the dispute is “unique in its tortuous complexity”. While the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, the portion of the island settled by Turks and invaded by its armed forces in 1974, has only been recognised by Turkey, it does have a population dependent on public services, whose administration does conform to international democratic norms. Under the Republic of Cyprus' constitution, Britain retains three per cent of its landmass for hosting two sovereign base areas under its own jurisdiction, post-independence Cold War concerns giving way to peacekeeping justifications following the Turkish-led invasion in 1974. However, their continued presence does present cause for concern among the Cypriot public and in recent years administrations of different parties have called for their removal.
The Republic of Cyprus
The Republic of Cyprus, which became independent of Britain in 1960, is the internationally recognised government of the whole island and like Malta is an EU member state since 2004 (a member of the Eurozone since 2008), as well as the Commonwealth of Nations. However, it only exercises jurisdiction over the southern portion of the island (though over 70% of its population) below the UN-administered 'Green Line' demilitarised zone.
Considered vital to the interests of the British Empire due to its strategic location in the Mediterranean near Suez, the island was ceded to Britain in 1878 following its intervention in the Russo-Turkish War. The island's status was only formally resolved in 1925 with the proclamation of a British colony, which then led to insurgency among the Greek Cypriots, who favoured reunion with Greece.
In exchange for British assurances about the possibility of such a reunion, the Greek insurgents then supported Britain's effort during World War II, though colonial administrators continued to promote divide and rule among the island's communities. The Cypriots secured their independence in 1960 amid wider decolonisation by the British government and following a sustained campaign of insurgency by supporters of reunion with Greece. However, this took place under terms forced upon them by the British and Greek governments as a result of the Zurich and London Agreement (with Greek Cypriots fearing a Turkish breakaway state and Turkish Cypriots fearing a reunion with Greece, which had become increasingly likely). The retention of British military bases on the island, enshrined in its constitution, was an additional price for independence, justified by the British by the presence of pro-Soviet communist agitators.
Politics in the Republic takes place within a presidential system coupled with a unicameral House of Representatives of 59 seats (the 24 seats reserved for the Turkish zone are unfilled). In 2008 the presidential elections were won by Dimitris Christofias, a member of the post-Marxist AKEL party, making it the first EU member state to be headed by a Communist. AKEL (of which Nicosia mayor Eleni Mavrou is also a member) supports the reunification of the island by federalism.
The Republic is divided into six districts, with four in the Greek Cypriot-administered areas of the island. Each of the districts is headed by a civil servant from the Ministry of the Interior. Nicosia is effectively bisected under this arrangement, though the Turkish half also governs the neighbouring district of Larnaca. The Municipality of Nicosia is governed by an elected mayor and 26 councillors, one of whom serves as deputy mayor. There are 32 other municipalities in Cyprus, each with an elected mayor (four year term), while rural areas are served by 549 communities, headed by a president and enjoying less competences. Some majority Greek-populated municipalities in the north are represented ‘in exile’ from the south.
Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus
Following the inter-communal unrest which led to the partition of the island, an independent republic was proclaimed in the north by Turkish Cypriots in 1975. This was precipitated by Turkey’s 1974 invasion under the pretext of protecting Turkish Cypriots from any forced attempt to reunite the island with Greece on the part of Greece’s military dictatorship, with many Greek Cypriots forced south as a result.
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus lacks international recognition however and is entirely dependent on Turkey for economic aid and military protection. The breakaway republic has been the subject of both UN and EU censure in a number of resolutions, with both Cyprus’ EU accession and the negative referendum result under the UN-sponsored Annan Plan in 2004 failing to broker a peaceful settlement to the on-going dispute. As international diplomatic recognition has been denied throughout its 30-year history, its status is more akin to that of Transnistria in Moldova than the Republic of China (Taiwan) or Western Sahara, which are recognised by many states. While the republic has a handful of overseas offices, its tourism bureau continues to attract high numbers of visitors from abroad (marketing it as ‘North Cyprus’).
As with the Republic in the south, politics in North Cyprus takes place within a presidential representative democracy, with a popularly elected president and unicameral assembly. Until 2005 the republic’s affairs were dominated by the nationalist Rauf Denktas, a former insurgent who became its first president in 1975 and governed until 2005. Denktas was known for his obstructive policies and negative stance on reconciliation with the Greek Cypriot population. Since Denktas’ retirement and Mehmet Ali Talat’s succession to the presidency, rapprochement has become more feasible with the election of Dimitris Christofias as president of the Republic of Cyprus, with talks taking place between both men aimed at reunification.
As with the Greek Cypriot-administered part of the island, there are a number of similarities between the two systems of local government on the island. The Turkish zone is divided into five government districts (Girne, Guzelyurt, Iskele, Lefkosa, Magusa), each with their own District Officer (a civil servant akin to a French prefect). Towns are served by municipal councils (each with an elected mayor) while village areas are served by village commissions (smaller councils), though there is no hierarchical distinction between the two.
Sovereign base areas
Under the Republic of Cyprus’ constitution, three per cent of its landmass is set aside for hosting British military bases under their own sovereign non-colonial jurisdiction. While the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) of Akrotiri and Dhekelia are governed by representatives of the British Government, their population is both British service personnel and 7,000 Cypriot citizens (either employed on the bases or in local industries). The bases are not deemed to be British Overseas Territories (like Gibraltar) with their own governance arrangements and are instead governed by an Administrator appointed by the Ministry of Defence (the Commander of British Forces Cyprus). Policing in the SBAs is carried out by the Sovereign Base Areas Police, a partially locally-recruited force (as opposed to the Ministry of Defence Police). The continued presence of the British bases is considered a political issue in Cyprus, with President Christofias dubbing them a “colonial bloodstain” during his election campaign.
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