Yet the voting leaves some critical negotiations ahead if the Republican Turkish Party (CTP) is to form a stable government.

With the results almost all in, Talat said in Nicosia that his party would probably have 25 seats in the 50-seat assembly.

A period of political horse-trading therefore looks likely now, as Talat tries to form a new government before the parliament of the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus resumes in 10 days' time.

"We will most probably need a coalition, but we only need one seat to get one," Ozdil Nami, a deputy in Talat's CTP, said.

King makers?

For their part, the main opposition parties to the CTP, the National Unity Party (UBP) and Democrat Party (DP), have seen their votes more or less unchanged since the last election, back in 2003.

The opposition parties have seen
no increase in their vote share

DP leader Serdar Denktash nonetheless told reporters that his party were now "the king makers". The DP seems likely to have some six seats, the UBP 18.

The final seat seems likely to go to Mustafa Akinci's Peace and Democracy Movement (BHP). His party lost out the most, as pro-settlement voters flocked to the CTP.

Predictably, CTP leaders are convinced the election result sends a message to the wider world.

"The result shows that Turkish Cypriots are committed to the path to peace," Nami said, "and our support for this in the past was not just a convenience."

Others saw in it a clear indication of a deeper change in Turkish Cyprus.

Same course

"Despite the disappointments," Kemal Cengiz from Nicosia said, "the result shows a commitment to follow the same course.

Pro-settlement voters flocked to
the party of Mehmet Ali Talat

Now this will also show the EU and the US and the international community that they have to help us."

Talat promised to pursue "more decisively and extensively" a policy of pressuring the international community to begin direct trade with Turkish Cypriots and end the unrecognised state's isolation.

Yet others were less optimistic about the prospects of the election making a real difference.

"The Greek Cypriots must now respond to what we are saying," Nefus Avci, a student from Famagusta, said, "but we fear that nothing much will come from them. They will try to downplay this."

Team dismantled

Last April, Turkish Cypriots voted in favour of a UN reunification plan while Greek Cypriots voted against. Since then, there have been no new efforts to restart talks, though both sides have expressed a willingness to do so.

The election's impact on the fate
of Turkish Cyprus is questionable

However, the UN has largely dismantled its Cyprus negotiating team, while the EU is also reluctant to become involved in negotiating a solution, as it fears that at present any new settlement plan would similarly be voted down.

Yet the election may bring added pressures on the Greek Cypriots.

"Perhaps if there are more moves towards ending our isolation," Nami said, "then the Greek Cypriots might be forced to change their minds."

How likely those moves will be, however, remains an open question.

Results welcomed

 

In any event, the European Commission on Sunday welcomed Talat's victory, saying the outcome showed a "clear desire" by the region's residents for full integration into the EU.

 

"The commission welcomes the results of the 'parliamentary' elections in the northern part of Cyprus," the EU's executive branch said in a statement.

 

"The results indicate a clear desire of the Turkish Cypriot community to continue preparations for their full integration into the EU."

 

It added: "The results also show that the Turkish Cypriots are committed to the reunification of Cyprus."