Turkish Cypriots to determine leader in runoff election

Turkish Cypriots start to vote on Sunday in a leadership runoff after no candidate was able to win 50 percent of the vote in the first round last week, state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

The election, pitting the left-wing incumbent president against a Turkish government-backed nationalist prime minister, could determine whether Turkish Cypriots preserve power over their affairs or drive even closer to an increasingly imperious Turkey.

Ankara-backed Ersin Tatar, who advocates a two-state solution came out on top with 32.35 percent, and Mustafa Akıncı, who backs efforts to reunify ethnically divided Cyprus, secured 29.84 percent in the first round. 

Ahead of Sunday's voting, Tufan Erhurman, the candidate of the Republican Turkish Party (CTP) who garnered 21.68 percent and took third in the first round, has thrown its support behind Akıncı. 

The first round saw all-time low voter participation of 55 percent from a 200,000-strong electorate, and some analysts say a higher turnout might favour Tatar, according to Associated Press.

Under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey has become an increasingly assertive regional power and engaged in a bitter dispute with Greece and Cyprus over potential exploitation of hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.

The vote comes after Turkey resumed gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean on Monday. The European Union has criticised Turkey's pursuit of resources in disputed maritime areas and warned Ankara against further "provocations".

Turkey has repeatedly said it seeks to defend Turkish and Turkish Cypriots' rights in the eastern Mediterranean. However, Akıncı's relationship with Ankara has come under strain, especially after the Turkish Cypriot president described the possibility of the north's annexation by Turkey as "horrible" in February.