Ersin Tatar, a nationalist prime minister who favors stronger ties with Turkey, scored a surprise victory in a runoff election in breakaway northern Cyprus — ousting pro-unification incumbent president Mustafa Akinci.
Ersin Tatar, the prime minister of Turkish-held northern Cyprus, has been declared the winner of the breakaway state's presidential runoff on Sunday, election officials announced.
Tatar scored 51.74% of the vote compared to 48.26% for the pro-unification incumbent Mustafa Akinci with 100% of the votes counted, reported the head of the electoral board.
A right-wing Turkish nationalist who is backed by Ankara, Tatar supports separate sovereign administrations on the island — which is only recognized by Turkey. The 60-year-old was congratulated by Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who controversially backed Tatar ahead of the vote.
"I congratulate Ersin Tatar who has been elected president," Erdogan wrote in a tweet. "Turkey will continue to provide all types of efforts to protect the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people."
As well as fresh pressure to resolve decades of division, the next leader of Northern Cyprus will oversee a growing dispute with Greece, Turkey and the Greek-Cypriot government over energy exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
Last week, Turkey resumed gas exploration, stoking tensions with its neighbors and drawing fresh criticism from the European Union.
The polls come amid an economic crisis, deepened by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has largely shuttered the tourism sector and led to the closure of Ercan airport in the north and crossing points to the south.