The most important election you’re not talking about

JIHAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty Images We’re in the midst of the most exciting presidential race in decades here in the United States. Pakistan’s legislative elections are coming up on Feb. 18. And within the next two months, we’ll also see elections in Russia, Spain, and Taiwan. But there’s one more upcoming election that you probably haven’t heard ...

596625_080211_cyprus2.jpg
596625_080211_cyprus2.jpg

JIHAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty Images

We're in the midst of the most exciting presidential race in decades here in the United States. Pakistan's legislative elections are coming up on Feb. 18. And within the next two months, we'll also see elections in Russia, Spain, and Taiwan. But there's one more upcoming election that you probably haven't heard much about: the presidential race in Cyprus that takes place in two rounds on Feb. 17 and 24. Right now, there's a virtual dead heat between the top three candidates. Check out this poll here. It's in Greek, but the colors on the chart show it all: 30.0 percent to 30.1 percent to 30.5 percent.

You might be asking: Why should you care about a presidential election taking place on a tiny island that's home to fewer than one million people? We'll get there, but first, a little background.

JIHAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty Images

We’re in the midst of the most exciting presidential race in decades here in the United States. Pakistan’s legislative elections are coming up on Feb. 18. And within the next two months, we’ll also see elections in Russia, Spain, and Taiwan. But there’s one more upcoming election that you probably haven’t heard much about: the presidential race in Cyprus that takes place in two rounds on Feb. 17 and 24. Right now, there’s a virtual dead heat between the top three candidates. Check out this poll here. It’s in Greek, but the colors on the chart show it all: 30.0 percent to 30.1 percent to 30.5 percent.

You might be asking: Why should you care about a presidential election taking place on a tiny island that’s home to fewer than one million people? We’ll get there, but first, a little background.

Cyprus has been split into two entities ever since 1974, when Turkey invaded the island in response to a military coup that was backed by Athens. The northern part is currently recognized as a state by only Turkey. Everyone else recognizes the southern Greek-speaking part as the official government. As the EU expanded, there were hopes that Cyprus could enter as a united island, but unification talks sponsored by the U.N. were unsuccessful. Cyprus joined the EU, still divided, in May 2004. Current Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos, who is running for re-election, is considered by many to be a hardliner when it comes to Greek-Turkish rapprochement. One of his opponents, Communist Dimitris Kristofias, was previously in a ruling coalition with Papadopoulos, but decided to run on his own this time. The other front-runner is Ioannis Kasoulides, a member of the European Parliament and someone who is largely in favor of unification. The winner will be tasked with determining how unification talks move forward. 

So, the Cypriot elections mean a lot for the future Europe as a whole, and not just for the island itself. Turkey will never be able to accede to the EU so long as Cyprus is opposed, and Cyprus will continue to oppose it so long as Turkey still recognizes the north as legitimate. Cyprus also plays a major role in how the EU approaches prospective independence for Kosovo. Cyprus is opposed to independence for Kosovo because it’s viewed as a vote against U.N. legitimacy. Greek Cypriots are also worried that Kosovar independence would be a rubber stamp for Turkish Cypriots to gain legal recognition. The most powerful states in the EU are in favor of independence for Kosovo. But as long as Cyprus remains opposed, the EU’s goal for a common foreign policy remains stymied. The elections in Cyprus may seem like small peanuts compared to other happenings in the world, but there are a lot of people who are watching closely.

Christine Y. Chen is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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