Legislative elections have just concluded in Cyprus after a campaign dominated by the perennial issue of reunification between the island’s Greek and Turkish communities and the ongoing fallout of the financial crisis. The country has been hit particularly hard in recent years by a banking crisis and a prolonged recession in the wake of Greece’s economic collapse.
Although the left-wing AKEL (Progressive Party of Working People) still remains, by far, the main opposition force, its total vote declined since the last election, and it will likely lose 3 of its 19 seats in the Cypriot House of Representatives.
The Constitution of Cyprus decrees an 80-seat house, with 24 seats reserved for Turkish Cypriots. These seats have remained vacant since a 1974 coup divided the island, however, effectively leaving a 56-member chamber. The vote total of the ruling conservative DISY (Democratic Rally) party also decreased but it will still hold more seats than AKEL.
Cyprus’s presidential form of government, however, means that the legislative election will not result in any change in the executive, currently held by President Nicos Anastasiades. He is engaged in UN-backed negotiations over reunification with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci.
Although AKEL’s vote total was down overall, some political forces had predicted that they would do even worse. But the highest vote total for any candidate was garnered by Irene Charalampidou, a political journalist running on the AKEL / New Forces slate, perhaps due to her sharp criticisms of the banking sector. The General Secretary of the Central Committee of AKEL, Andros Kyprianou, was also elected to the House by virtue of his being the head of the AKEL / New Forces slate.
Low turnout hampers the left
In the case of the overall vote, an analysis of results has revealed that rather than AKEL voters switching to other parties, they just didn’t vote. This non-voting, or what the Cypriots refer to as abstention, was about 33 percent in this election, which is particularly troubling because it represents an increase of some 12 percent from the last election.
This election had the lowest turnout in Cypriot history and while abstention rates are still not at U.S. levels, they are clearly trending that way. In an official statement released after the election, AKEL leader Kyprianou decried the fact that so many people, including many of his own party’s voters, just didn’t bother to go to the polls.
In Cyprus, unlike the U.S., there are many political parties. Seats in the House are allocated according to a proportional representation system, with a vote total of at least 3.6 percent required for a party to gain any seats. In this election, several new parties met that threshold and will enter the House, bringing the total number of parties represented to eight.
Right-wing sees gains
One negative development is that the vote total for the extreme right-wing nationalist ELAM party, although very small, increased to just above the 3.6 percent threshold. For the first time, it will hold 2 seats in the new House. ELAM is widely seen as a neo-Nazi organization and is closely affiliated with the Greek extreme right criminal organization, Golden Dawn. Four other parties stood in the elections, but their vote total did not reach the threshold and thus they earned no seats.
One of the newer parties is KA, or the Solidarity Movement. It is a right-wing split from the ruling DISY party and is hostile to a federal solution of the “Cyprus Problem” – the de-facto division of the country into Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot zones since the 1974 coup, backed by the Greek military junta, provoked an invasion by Turkey’s armed forces.
Although the current balance of political forces favors a solution to the Cyprus Problem, there has been an increase in elements which do not. In Cyprus, it is not up to the House to shape the official policy on the Cyprus Problem but rather it is up to a counsel of former Presidents. Thus, people did not necessarily vote based on a particular party’s stand on the Cyprus Problem.
The election results, then, could be a setback for the headway made in recent reunification talks. DISY and AKEL have been, at least to some extent, collaborating on finding a solution based on a bizonal-bicommunal federation. Also, the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot negotiators had recently returned to the convergences reached between 2008-10 by former Cyprus president and AKEL leader Demetris Christofias and former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat.
Economy also a top concern for voters
In addition to the “Cyprus Problem,” in which the House really does not play much of a role, other debates in the campaign centered around the banking crisis and the recession that hit Cyprus in the wake of the Greek financial crisis.
While the right and center forces in general, (the DISY party, often in concert with the much smaller DIKO party), tried to demagogically blame AKEL for the crisis, the AKEL / New Forces slate put the blame on the banking sector itself and its enablers on the right. The left alliance also attacked the so called “hair-cut” on deposits, (a direct confiscation of people’s bank deposits), agreed to by the DISY government and the “Troika” of the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF, in 2013.
In addition, the broad left in general focused on the negative social effects of the crisis, such as the spate of foreclosures on residences and small businesses. On the part of some (mainly DISY in parliamentary alliance with DIKO), there has been, in the wake of the crisis, a drive to implement the typical neoliberal agenda: privatization, increases in working hours, attacks on labor rights, and so on.
This drive has been blunted, primarily by AKEL / New Forces, but also by the broad left in general. AKEL / New Forces pledged to continue to work in coalition with some of the smaller parties around such issues.
Finally, there was a concern among the electorate around corruption and the transparency of government, and, of course, there was a great deal of finger-pointing from all sectors around these questions.
Meetings throughout the AKEL party will be held to discuss the results of the election and General Secretary Kyprianou has assured voters that his party would remain on the frontlines of struggle to defend the Cypriot people.
Photo: AKEL supporters rally in Cyprus.