NICOSIA (Reuters) - Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu failed on Sunday to win a presidential election in the breakaway territory, paving the way for a runoff in late April ahead of an expected resumption of peace talks for the divided island, possibly in May.
Only Turkey recognizes the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). The international community regards the Greek Cypriot government in southern Cyprus as the sole legitimate representative of the whole island.
The runoff between Eroglu, a conservative, and his main rival, leftist Mustafa Akinci, is set for April 26.
With most votes from almost 177,000 people counted, Eroglu was in the lead with nearly 29 percent and Akinci had 27 percent. Center-left candidate Sibel Siber and independent Kudret Ozerday emerged as kingmakers, respectively taking 22.7 and 21.5 percent of the vote.
Presidential elections are held in northern Cyprus every five years.
“I hope the decision of the people will be good for all, not only for the Turkish Cypriots but for all inhabitants of this lovely island,” Akinci told Reuters as he cast his vote.
Eroglu, widely viewed as a nationalist, accuses the Greek Cypriots of dragging their feet in the reunification negotiations and has said he will seek a Turkish Cypriot referendum to decide whether to continue talks.
Of all the candidates, Akinci is considered most in favor of reunification. He has said the status quo in Cyprus is unsustainable and that a compromise approach with Greek Cypriots is the only way forward for a deal.
The reunification talks have been on hold since October 2014, when Greek Cypriots suspended their participation in protest over perceived moves by Turkey to challenge their sovereign rights in exploring for natural gas.
A United Nations envoy recently said he was optimistic that the stalled talks could resume soon, possibly as early as next month. The conflict remains a key source of tension between NATO allies Greece and Turkey.
Cyprus was split by a Turkish military invasion in 1974 which followed a brief Greek-inspired coup.
Economically, disparities between the Turkish and Greek sides have waned somewhat in recent years, particularly after Greek Cypriots required an international bailout in 2013.
However, differences remain. The minimum wage on the Turkish side is 500 euros, versus 800 euros on the Greek side.
Editing by Clelia Oziel and Gareth Jones