The recent parliamentary election on 22 May 2016 was expected to deliver surprises for a host of reasons, but what came about was a total redrafting of the political map in the Greek Cypriot community with all resultant repercussions promising to reverberate for some time to come. On the front of electoral jousting still coming, are two further elections – municipal elections in December 2016 in 26 weeks from now, and the critical presidential elections in February 2018.
May 22nd will go down in the nation’s electoral memory as a turning point. It saw the second lowest ever voter turnout, the greatest shift among supporters of political parties, and the number of political parties increasing to a surprising eight – the highest in 15 years. The biggest party in votes was the absentee vote, surpassing 33.51 percent. The election results reflect Cyprus’s current political realities and the changes are even more severe than meets the eye. This is an island state that was forcefully partitioned – with more armaments and troops per square mile than the Korean Peninsula – recently driven to bankruptcy by hordes of known and/or criminally inept politicians and bankers who are likely never to be brought to justice on this island of habitual impunity. The Greek Cypriot economy, society, and political system have – in effect – imploded.
The final election results amplified the changes in the electorate's frame of mind in terms of the Greek Cypriot party system. The growing number of corruption scandals – mostly linked to the two biggest parties,the right wing Democratic Rally (DISY) and the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) – clearly showed the voters' outright wrath against them on election night. The governing party, DISY saw its tally decline by 3.7 percent and AKEL by a staggering 7.1 percent. Traditional socialist party, the Movement for Social Democracy (EDEK), reduced its losses to 2.8 percent, while the center-right Democracy Party (DIKO) fared the best in minimizing its losses to only 1.3 percent. The flood of discontent however was high and carried into the parliament a string of reinforced small parties, as well as two newly formed parties. Aside from the noted corruption scandals concerning DISY and AKEL (with a number of officials having been arrested), the “Great Heist” that they tried to impose on the smaller parties by doubling the needed threshold to enter parliament just weeks before the May Elections from 1.7 percent to 3.6 percent blew up in their face. This angered the majority of voters who either turned up en masse to side with smaller parties or simply, refused to cast their votes. They are not to be taken for granted any more.
The truth is indeed in the details of the results but simply glancing at the numbers does not convey the real picture of what is taking place politically in the Greek Cypriot political map. Faces behind the numbers have their own important story to tell and especially so in the smaller parties who managed to roar back at the two big party lions successfully and rattled their sleepy arrogance.
The Pack of “4”, notably the (Citizens’ Alliance), Allilegyi (Solidarity), Cyprus Green Party – Citizens' Cooperation, and of course the infamous, National Popular Front (ELAM), hold 20 percent of the total votes. This is a sizable percentage that will be able to influence a long string of bills submitted by the Anastasiades Government.
What unites all of these parties is a thorough disdain for the publicly-avowed solution for the frozen Cyprus problem – for example a bi-zonal or bi-communal federation – and permanent distrust in the persona of Nicos Anastasiades who champions it with fervor and sometimes even veiled threats.
There have been significant political shakeups in Parliament with regards to the Cyprus problem. DIKO, the Democratic Party headed by Nikolas Papadopoulos, son of the former President of the Republic of Cyprus, the late Tassos Papadopoulos, is the main arbiter of the rejectionist camp of the above mentioned bi-zonal federation.
DIKO, which is a part of the old establishment founded in 1976, escaped the recent elections rather unscathed. It only lost 1.3 percent of its votes and still scored an arbiter-like 14.49 percent. This means that the camp against establishing a bi-zonal federation now stands at 35 percent. Aside from this, the number of parliamentarians who espouse this political stance is even greater; they reach a total number of 22 seats, which is enough to cause problems for Anastasiades’s government regarding the passing of bills on all issues relevant to the state and of course, the Cyprus problem.
On the “national issue,” notably the Cyprus issue, many of the absentee votes of the Big Two – DISY and AKEL – are among those who will not vote in a possible solution referendum, according to the wishes of their own parties. These “rebels” constitute a silent moral majority and the greatest unexpected factor as they consider themselves freed from the shackles of their paternalistic parties, and free to vote according to their own conscience. Already, the results of the political earthquake produced by the recent parliamentary election are showing their teeth. The first task that the new Parliament had to do was to elect its president, who holds the second most important office in the Republic after the President and presides in his stead in the event of absence or illness. It proved to be an impossible process for the two big parties to control and elect one of their own party leaders to the post . Due to intense political jockeying, the result was a massive compromise for them. The President of the House is now Demetris Syllouris, an avowed opponent of the long-discussed bi-zonal, bi-communal federation as a solution to the divided island, and vice president of the recently-founded Solidarity party. The next sign was a change in the leadership of the Parliament’s important Committee of Foreign and European Affairs, which was long held by DISY. Former Foreign Minister and President of the Citizens’ Alliance party, George Lillikas was chosen to be its president, who also ran for the Presidency of the Republic in 2013 and lost to current President Anastasiades by a hair.
Many believe to this day, that he would have been elected President had he made it to the second round. Lillikas recently announced he will run again for the Presidency of the Republic in February 2018.
Furthermore, the Greek Cypriot community has another important variable non-political in nature but completely political in its impact on voters through its admonitions on grave issues as the Cyprus problem. Such is the 2000 year-old Church of Cyprus and its charismatic Archbishop Chrysostomos II. His Greek Cypriot congregation comes from all political parties and His Beatitude is indeed the only voice of authority in the Greek Cypriot community that can speak across political party lines – to a great effect as well. In February 2013 he endorsed Anastasiades as a candidate, but only because no other candidate held views similar to the Church's own regarding the Cyprus problem. The Archbishop publicly expressed his satisfaction after the elections last month brought new political parties, among them ELAM (National Patriotic Front), to the House. He indicated that all views from the political spectrum should be heard in order to, “...quell the current outlandish arrogance of the two Big Parties!”
What to Make of This?
The conclusion is simple. The recent parliamentary elections in Cyprus effectively ended the long grace period President Anastasiades had been enjoying. The tormented Greek Cypriot community suffered considerably from March 2013 on, and still do so. For example, they saw their lives' savings looted by the state and the onerous Troika (the EU Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF) in order for a rescue package to be extended so that the economy itself did not collapse like the local banking sector.
The Turkish government and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci have to reconsider their options with regards to Cyprus because it is possible that February 2018 will not return Anastasiades to power, and instead install a completely different leader. This will carry implications for all the the big issues currently on the table, from the Cyprus Problem to natural gas findings to the collateral issue of EU-Turkey relations. The recent parliamentary election results seem to indicate they are not to be taken as an isolated fireworks' show.
Note: The House of Representatives of the Republic of Cyprus has 80 seats divided between the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots with a 56/24 ratio. The 24 seats allotted to the Turkish Cypriots are not filled due to the unresolved Cyprus Problem.