The real cost of a no vote

A ‘NO’ vote by Greek Cypriots in the referendum on the Annan plan could be far worse for the island than anyone imagines, diplomats warned bluntly yesterday.

Members of the international community have openly expressed concern about the fact that the leaders of the two sides have not done enough to promote or explain the plan to their respective populations.

“A ‘no’ vote is a ‘yes’ vote for partition… permanent partition,” said one diplomat close to the negotiations.

While a ‘yes’ vote is more or less expected from the Turkish Cypriots, with or without the approval of Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash who is known to oppose the plan, the fear is that Greek Cypriots are swinging towards a negative response as politicians remain divided.

Diplomats and observers admit they are worried.

“The opinion polls are not encouraging, and people who do speak out for the plan like (George) Vassiliou and (Michalis) Papapetrou are vilified,” said a western diplomat.

So far, the government “have not given any positive lead to the public. Any lead given so far has been negative,” he added.

But the consequences would not stop at partition, the international community warns.

According to diplomats, more Turkish Cypriots would leave the island or migrate south to take advantage of EU membership benefits, while the north would be left to the mercy of Turkey and an increased number of settlers. This would cause tensions on the island, they believe.

The Greek Cypriot side would lose all credibility and find it very difficult to pursue any sort of settlement in the future, while failure to reach a settlement in Cyprus would scupper efforts to normalise relations between Greece and Turkey, struggling to solve issues in the Aegean, creating wider problems in the region, they add.

Ultimately, the north would be recognised, first by Islamic states and later by other countries, particularly if the EU opened new channels of communication with the Turkish Cypriots.

“A ‘no’ vote could be viewed as a racist act against Muslims in general and Turkish Cypriots in particular, and it would be viewed by Europe as an un-European act,” said a second diplomat.

Both Denktash and President Tassos Papadopoulos have been told to stop talking down the plan and to go out and tell their respective populations that the solution that is on the table involves compromises and sacrifices.

“Somebody’s got to go out and tell people that this is not a choice between this plan and a better one, but a choice between this and probable permanent partition,” said the diplomat.

“The consequences would be a political disaster for the Greek Cypriots, who have been saying for 30 years that they want a settlement,” he added.