By Kyriacos Jacovides
In a recent interview, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Head of UNFICYP, Colin Stewart, referred to the fact that his country of origin, Canada, has a French-speaking Prime Minister, despite the fact that French-speakers make up 25% of the population, in order to show that ethnic and linguistic differences are being addressed and over time will not pose a threat to the unity of the country.
Mr. Stewart forgets some very substantial differences between what is in place in his country and what has been repeatedly proposed for the resolution of the Cyprus Problem. In Canada, two very fundamental principles of democracy apply and are implemented: a) the majority rules with respect for the minority, and b) one man one vote. At the same time, power is not shared on the basis of ethnic or linguistic criteria.
What is the case in Cyprus and what has been repeatedly proposed?
The 1960 Constitution provides for a Greek Cypriot President and a Turkish Cypriot Vice-President. It also provides for a Greek Cypriot Speaker of the Parliament and a Turkish Cypriot Vice-President. When the President of the Republic is absent, the Vice President does not replace him, but the Speaker of the Parliament does.
The Vice President has the right to veto, and a separate majority is required on substantive issues. The Parliament has 50 members, but 35 must be Greek Cypriots, 15 must be Turkish Cypriots and the MPs are elected by each community separately. It was as if Cyprus had two parallel governments. This was one of the main reasons for which the crisis was erupted, apart from Turkey’s decision, based on Nihat Erim’s proposals in 1956 for the “reconquest of Cyprus” in six stages.
A fundamental principle of a democratic system is that it is based on the citizens and not on communities or ethnic groups, which have no legal status. Where legal status is granted to communities, or based on religious, ethnic, racial or other criteria, serious problems for the unity of the country arise. The individual states in Yugoslavia were based on ethnic and religious criteria, and with the death of Tito, the country was broken up and independent countries were created, some through velvet divorce and others through military conflicts. With the collapse of communism, Czechoslovakia was divided into two states, while the Soviet Union, where each "Soviet Republic" was a separate ethnic community, was dissolved and 15 new states were created, based on ethnic and religious criteria. In Lebanon, with the declaration of independence, the power was divided along religious lines between Christian Maronites, Shiites and Sunni Muslims, and we have been witnessing what has been happening in this country for many years.
Returning to the example of Canada, which Mr. Stewart presented, I must point out that power in Canada is neither divided between English-speaking and French-speaking people, nor between the individual provinces of the country. The ten provinces of Canada, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Saskatchewan, have their own administrations/local governments with some powers over local issues, but they are not represented, nor do they have a voice in the central government. Also, the 338 MPs, who are elected under the single-member proportional representation system in each of the single-member constituencies, represent their constituency and its voters, not the province from which they come from.
In the case of Cyprus, however, what some people want to impose is the representation of the two individual regional states in the central government and the sharing of power on the basis of ethnic and religious criteria. This is a recipe for the complete paralysis of the central government and the destruction of the foundations of the federal state.
Mr. Stewart should think what would happen if power in Canada were divided along ethnic and linguistic lines. Wouldn’t that emphasize and reinforce the nationalism of each community? He should also think what would happen in the United States if power were shared along racial lines, between whites, African-Americans, Latinos, not to mention religious lines. What would happen?
The only way to achieve peace and stability in Cyprus is to apply the two fundamental principles of democracy: majority rule with respect for the minority and one man one vote. Everything else about rotating presidency, presidential councils, weighted vote, are all mischievous and will lead to disaster.
Kyriacos Jacovides is a Journalist – Political Scientist