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The 22 May 2016 Parliamentary Elections In Cyprus: The Most Disparate Political Picture In Years!

Elections have always been a popular political event in the Greek Cypriot community, especially in the years after the tragic events of 1974 that forced the partition of the island state. Due to the fact that the Greek Cypriot governmental system is a presidential democracy where, unfortunately, the president wields excessive powers of rule, presidential elections have historically been more popular than parliamentary elections.  Absentee voting has been almost negligible, especially given the law imposing fines on those who abstained from voting, which was in place until 2004 when the island joined the EU.

Recent important events, however, have given impetus to rising discontent and mistrust of all forms of political power among Greek Cypriots. In 2013, the once flourishing Greek Cypriot economy entered into a long period of severe recession almost overnight, which was brought about by the collapse of the banking sector. The second biggest bank in business since 1901 went bankrupt despite futile efforts by both the Parliament and Government to inject 1.8 billion euros in order to save it. The government of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL), which was in power from 2008 until 2013, was too sluggish in taking the necessary steps to pre-empt the impending financial crisis. As a result, a right wing government was elected under President Nikos Anastasiades in February 2013 after he ran on an election platform based on assurances he would not accept any severe measures by the Troika, such as bank deposit “haircuts.”[1] The new president did exactly that on the fateful evening of 15 March 2013, in an emergency session of the Eurogroup in Brussels, thus breaking his promise to the voters and depositors who had just elected him! The biggest irony is that the president himself assisted his son-in-law in taking millions of euros out of the banks in Cyprus and depositing them safely into British banks just hours before the haircut that robbed his own people of their life savings went into effect.

These events have been so severe in their impact on Greek Cypriot citizens that faith in their own political institutions and parties has been decimated. A never-ending string of corruption scandals have been rocking the taxpayers and voters in the Greek Cypriot community, thus extinguishing any residue of faith remaining in local politicians, government, and parties. In no time, mayors were arrested over huge bribes with their municipalities’ garbage collections; the two biggest political parties were caught red handed receiving massive amounts into their coffers from companies claiming to be giving ‘donations’; Turkish Cypriot properties in Larnaca were bought by the state phone company at a low cost after its own chairman had falsified papers, demanded bribes, and sold them to the company he was presiding over at much higher prices. These examples and others involving the transgressions of former ministers, are a clear indication that both the Republic of Cyprus’ society and state apparatus have imploded and become completely ambivalent and discredited.

The two biggest parties – right wing Democratic Rally (DISY) and communist AKEL – who were responsible for the greatest political disasters in the last three to four years, recently attempted to hijack the democratic political process. DISY and AKEL scrambled to pass a new electoral law in Parliament just four months before the May 22 Parliamentary election whereby the long-standing threshold of 1.8 percent would double to 3.6 percent, for a ‘fairer democracy.’

Thus, Greek Cypriots saw their votes for the above-mentioned corrupt political system—and its main actors that have run amok—as an exercise in futility and hesitation to vote in this Parliamentary election of May 22 in Cyprus. On the other hand, nothing will change unless the citizenry continue to exercise their right to vote. Absentee voting hit record levels on election day, surpassing the 36% mark!

Interestingly enough, a mini revolution has – at first quietly and now more loudly – been taking place among voters, with large numbers appearing to be shifting from the two biggest parties to the smaller opposition parties. This trend is tipping the balance of the big parties’ total vote from a staggering near 70 percent to less than 57 percent, thus receiving a well-deserved punishment for their political games and excesses. New parties that have come into being almost overnight and the existing opposition parties are all expected to sail clear of the 3.6 percent hurdle and solidify into a sizeable opposition bloc against both DISY and AKEL.

Of course, this is expected to have an impact beyond local politics in the Greek Cypriot community. These election results carried particular implications for the ongoing Cyprus negotiations between Anastasiades and the new amiable, Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, who is always under the careful gaze of Ankara.  Should the five parties, some of them new kids on the block, find a way to build a common platform of policies against the DISY and AKEL, it could mean that President Anastasiades’ aspirations for a second five-year term in February 2018 could prove to be just a pipe-dream.

[1] This refers to a bail-in whereby the banks’ depositors’ own funds are used to make up for the severe losses the banks themselves have incurred and thus save them from bankruptcy.

Georgios Stavri
Georgios Stavri

Georgios Stavri is the Director of the Euro-Mediterranean Institute of Geopolitics in Nicosia, Cyprus.

Ljljana Jakovlevic
Ljljana Jakovlevic

Ljljana Jakovlevic is a political psychologist (Cyprus and the Balkans) and a freelance electoral observer.

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