By Yiannos Katsourides, ICWS Visiting Fellow.
This year, 2014, marks the third time that Cyprus sent elected representatives to the European Parliament. The elections took place in a volatile and fluid setting defined by mounting anti-party sentiment and fury at the entire political system and the economic administrators that brought the country to the brink of financial collapse one year ago. However, and at first view, the long-stable Cypriot party system has shown remarkable resilience once again with the allocation of seats remaining the same as in the 2009 European elections. The dynamics of change that have been gestating in recent years, however, are becoming more and more visible, although not yet reflected in the party system.
The elections generated little interest among the Cypriots
The European elections sparked very little interest among the Cypriot public. The unprecedented degree of indifference can be explained by: the very few seats allocated to Cyprus (6); the perception that ‘we cannot influence Brussels (which is seen as quite remote) because of our small size’; and the inability of political actors to relate EU decisions and workings to the everyday life of Cypriots. However, it was the first time that ‘Europe’ played a small part in any type of election campaign in Cyprus.
Given the public’s indifference it was no surprise that the campaign was short and expenditure on it was minimal. The high rate of abstention, the beneficiary of the sixth seat and the fact that it was the first time that Turkish Cypriots were running for office (five Turkish Cypriot candidates in total) were the only interesting themes of an otherwise lacklustre campaign.
Results of the European Elections
Although European elections are usually characterised by incumbent punishment, in Cyprus, voters seemed to have penalised the former governing left-wing party AKEL for the 2013 March bail-in. AKEL (26.98%), while maintaining its two seats, lost 8% of its vote share compared to the previous European elections.
At the same time the governing right party, DISY, enjoyed a comfortable win polling 37.75% of the vote, the highest score in its history despite its decision to implement the bail-in in 2013.
The distance between the two parties indicates a change in the balance of power, which has clearly leaned towards DISY with a margin of 10% for a first time since 1974.
Center-right DIKO (10.86%) polled 28,044 votes, approximately 10,000 less than its membership. However, compared to all parties’ previous vote share in the European elections of 2009, DIKO had the smallest percentile decrease.
The socialist EDEK (7.68%) managed to keep its seat; nevertheless it still lost a significant part of its electorate. Many believe that the alliance with the Greens is what saved the day for the party, especially given that their distance from the next party, the Citizens’ Alliance – a newly founded party putting across an anti-establishment message- was less than 1%.
Comments on the Minority Parties and their results
At the far right end of the ideological continuum it is worth noting that ELAM (National Popular Front), Greek’s Golden Dawn sister party, received 2.69% of the popular vote. Although not a high percentage per se, ELAM has increased its vote share by a factor of more than ten.
Though most of the smaller parties, platforms and independents that took part in the elections did not perform well independently, taken together (9.98%), they signal underlying currents of alternative and fringe agendas and issues that have so far been absent from Cypriot politics. They also represent, for some citizens, an alternative channel for expressing their discontent with established parties.
The turnout among Turkish Cypriots was exceptionally low, 3.19%. This was the result of a combination of causes. First, there was the fact that all Turkish Cypriot political parties called on their voters to refrain from voting. Second, there is the long-embedded culture and practice of separate political representation. Finally, it happened that approximately one-third of the 90,000 eligible voters were left off the electoral roll due to an apparent error concerning their registration. However, this error would not have resulted in any significant change in the outcome.
All the above, however, are secondary factors in relation to the high levels of abstention, which constitutes the most important story of the elections. The turnout was, at 42.37% (down from 59.4% in 2009), astonishingly low for Cyprus electoral standards — 46.56% if Turkish Cypriots are not included. The elections verified an underlying trend in Cypriot politics: the continuing parting of politics with society. In essence we have two parallel and opposing worlds; those running the political and party system and those who remain loyal partisans, on the one hand and the majority of the citizens, on the other. A process of dealignment seems to have been put in place in Cyprus in recent years, and this serves to delegitimize the national political system.