The May 2016 Greek Cypriot Parliamentary Elections and Beyond
Andrekos Varnava, Ph.D, Senior Lecturer, School of History and International Relations, Flinders University, South Australia
This is the election result that Greek Cypriots and their established political elites needed. This comment may not accord well with many Cypriot intellectuals, especially on the left. Many have interpreted the election results in ‘doomsday’ terms, given the fall in the vote for the neo- Communist AKEL, the near destruction of the nationalist and moderately socialist EDEK, the rise of the neo-Nazi ELAM and the significant increase in absenteeism. But the fact remains that although the two major parties (DISY remained on top) have taken a hit they are still in the clear majority. They should not panic, yet they do need to embrace economic reform and restructuring more seriously and realistically, and better articulate their vision of a reunified Cyprus. The efforts to reunify the island have intensified under the pro-reunification Greek Cypriot (Nicos Anastasiades) and Turkish Cypriot (Mustafa Akıncı) leaders, with the two major Greek Cypriot parties DISY and AKEL supporting these efforts. A close analysis of the results will show that the changes that occurred were not seismic and DISY and AKEL can recover their lost ground, especially with more astute election strategies.
Looking at the island-wide results in isolation one can be expected to see the hits taken by all four of the major parties and proclaim that it is the beginning of the end of their domination. As the table below shows the governing centre-Right DISY lost 3.7%, the neo-Communist AKEL lost a massive 7.1%, the church-nationalist right DIKO held up only losing 1.3%, while the nationalist and moderately socialist EDEK almost crumbled losing 2.8%. In the eyes of some commentators, the four minor parties appear to have been the ‘big winners’. All of these parties (along with DIKO and EDEK) are opposed to reunifying Cyprus along the lines of a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation. George Lilikas’ populist ‘Citizen’s Alliance’ obtained 6.01%, ‘Solidarity Movement’, the merger of the European Party (EVROKO) led by Demetris Sillouris and the movement led by Eleni Theoharous (both left DISY because they oppose its policy of reunifying Cyprus), won 5.24%, the Greens rose 2.6% to 4.81% and the neo-Nazi ELAM also rose by that margin to 3.71%. The statistics outlined above and which are shown in the table do not speak for themselves and my analysis will show that very little has indeed changed on the Cypriot political scene.
Table I: May 2016 Greek Cypriot Elections
Results Island-Wide Source: Ministry of Information, Republic of Cyprus
* On 11 March 2016 the new ‘Solidarity Movement’ led my Eleni Theocharous, formerly a DISY member, merged with the European Party (EVROKO) led by Demetris Syllouris, and therefore, for the purposes of studying the election, it is important to not consider his a new party and to consider how the previous results of EVROKO have been affected by this merger.
Before delving into a deeper and more meaningful analysis of the election results, it is important to understand that they do not spell doom and gloom for the three major parties (DISY, AKEL and DIKO), nor are there any other parties, either new ones or ones that have improved their vote, which could emerge to challenge them. Yet for EDEK the election was a disaster from which they cannot recover, confined now to one of many populist parties battling for the scraps (8-13 seats). At the end of the day the two major parties not only command a majority of the vote (56.36%) but also a majority of the seats (34), and neither can govern with the third party. A comparison with the 2011 and 2006 elections and
a closer analysis of the 2016 vote by district (and occasionally by town and village) will explain the voting changes and support my two contentions that the 2016 election was not a massive shift in Cypriot politics and that the major parties can recover lost ground.
Of the top four parties, with the exception ofAKEL, their 2016 results matched a past result, indicating that they have been in this situation before. In the 2006 election, the first after the failed Annan Plan, DISY, which had supported the plan, dropped from 34.0% to 30.34%, a result that is slightly lower than that which they obtained in 2016, and which they had recovered in 2011. In the cases of DIKO and EDEK, their 2016 votes are only slightly lower than their 2001 results. This same point can be said about ‘Solidarity Movement’, which as EVROKO in 2006 reached an even higher vote (albeit slightly) than in 2016. For SYPOL it is harder to gauge since it is completely new, yet it gained less than it did in the 2014 Euroelections (where it won 6.6%) and in the presidential elections of 2013 George Lilikas, supported by EDEK and by some in EVROKO and the Greens (and obviously by some DIKO voters who did not vote according to their parties decision to vote for Anastasiades) obtained a massive 24.93% of the vote in the first round, a mere 2% away from the second placed AKEL backed candidate, Stavros Malas. Clearly the 6% his party obtained in the 2016 elections is not a significant reflection of this, even if one adds the EDEK and Greens votes (perhaps indicating that much more DIKO voters supported him in 2013 than claimed) and do not make him a serious force in Cypriot politics. For AKEL, however, the historical trend is definitely not good. Since its highest ever result in 2001 of 34.7% it has dropped 9% and most of this has occurred in 2016. There are two issues to account for this, all of which are issues that seem to have impacted more generally the result in 2016: the economy and economic reform and the reunification efforts. Yet as I will show below, AKEL can turn this one bad result around.
Table II: Greek Cypriot Elections 2001-2016(below)
Source: Ministry of Information, Republic of Cyprus
A closer look at the 2016 results by district will contextualise the changes and show how regionalised the results are. The story in Nicosia is that the top three parties all lost more than their overall losses and 13.2% more absented themselves than in 2011. DISY was hard hit losing 5.4% (1.7% more than nationally), mostly going to ‘Solidarity Movement’, the Greens, and to a lesser extent ELAM, while some absented themselves. AKEL lost 8%, almost 1% more than the national loss, with disaffected voters turning to SYPOL (Lilikas had first entered parliament on an AKEL ticket) and most staying home. DIKO lost just over 1% more than their national loss, possibly also to SYPOL, the Greens and ELAM. EDEK lost considerably less in Nicosia than their national loss, only 1.1% down from 2011, again probably to the Greens and SYPOL, the latter clearly gaining votes from various parties because of its anti-austerity and anti-reunification populism. The 1.3% gain by ‘Solidarity Movement’ (from the EVROKO result of 2011) is about on the national result, showing that the Theoharous factor was negligible in Nicosia. ELAM grew its vote by 2.1%, the lowest in the country. The reason for the last two results was that the Greens were the real victors of the minnows, increasing their vote by 4.2% from 2011. This clearly indicates that anti-reunification voters of AKEL and those from DISY, DIKO and EDEK not willing to vote for the other parties, chose the Greens.
Table III: May 2016 Greek Cypriot Election Results Nicosia
Source: Ministry of Information, Republic of Cyprus
The trends in Famagusta do not reflect the overall trends (except in absent voters, up 12.6%), nor does it resemble any other district. Voters seem to have stuck more with the major parties, perhaps reflecting the overall pro-reunification base given the many displaced or children of displaced hoping to rebuild Varosha. DISY lost a mere 2%, AKEL lost less than anywhere else, except for Limassol, down 6.2%, while DIKO held on, going down only 0.9%, ‘Solidarity Movement’ made no inroads, EDEK lost a significant, but not disastrous 1.7%, and the Greens increased their vote by a respectable 1.8%. This means that the gains made by SYPOL from AKEL, DIKO and EDEK, and those by ELAM from EVROKO, which, now as ‘Solidarity Movement’, probably picked up a little from DISY, were not particularly high.
Table IV: May 2016 Greek Cypriot Election Results Famagusta
Source: Ministry of Information, Republic of Cyprus
The results in Larnaca also buck the national trends in many respects. Firstly AKEL managed to hold onto the top spot, going down 6.6%, mostly in absent voters and some to SYPOL, which gained 5.54%. DISY lost a considerable 6%, higher than anywhere else, mostly to ‘Solidarity Movement’, which increased the 2011 EVROKO vote by 2.8% and to ELAM, which increased its 2011 vote by 2.5%. EDEK lost 2.3%, close to its national loss, mostly to SYPOL and the Greens. But DIKO bucked the trend and gained a small margin on its 2011 result. The Greens and to a lesser extent ELAM did not grow as well as most other districts, but still did well. As with Famagusta, the political landscape in Larnaca did not change very much.
Table V: May 2016 Greek Cypriot Election Results Larnaca
Source: Ministry of Information, Republic of Cyprus
The results in Kyrenia also did not reflect the national results in many cases. DISY actually increased its vote, but only marginally. This flies in the face of the losses of the other pro-reunification party AKEL, down 10.1% from 2011. To be sure hard-line anti-reunification AKELists went over to SYPOL and perhaps the Greens, and many stayed home, but its prior strong performances in Kyrenia must be attributed to the popularity of ex-president Demetris Christofias, who is from Dikomo. DIKO lost slight more than nationally, but is still very strong at nearly 20%, while EDEK did not fare as badly as elsewhere, down 1.4%, lost probably to SYPOL, which did particularly well. ‘Solidarity Movement’ lost ground from the EVROKO vote of 2011, reflecting the strong vote for DISY and in the other direction, towards ELAM, which also did well, but remains a minnow, as are the Greens, who achieved a little more than their national percentage, perhaps because many voting in the Kyrenia district live in Nicosia, where the Greens focussed much of their campaign and did very well.
Table VI: May 2016 Greek Cypriot Election Results Kyrenia (below)
Source:Ministryof Information, Republic of Cyprus
The results in Limassol reflected slightly more the national trends. DISY and AKEL did not drop as much as the national drop, but still lost ground to bring them to levels of support that reflect their national results. DIKO fell at about the national drop, while ELAM increased at about its national rise. The Greens did not do so well. The main stories are with EDEK, SYPOL and ‘Solidarity Movement’. EDEK’s vote in Limassol took a dramatic tumble, down 6.9%, largely because of the unpopularity of its leader, Marios Sizopoulos, and the stronger performances of ‘Solidarity Movement’ and SYPOL. While some of the DISY and AKEL voters from 2011 switched to ‘Solidarity Movement’ and SYPOL respectively, the latter achieved its best result in Limassol at the expense of EDEK, since there are many examples (see Table VIII) of EDEK losses resembling SYPOL gains.
Table VII: May 2016 Greek Cypriot Election Results Limassol
Source:Ministryof Information,Republic of Cyprus
The results in Paphos are altogether different for various reasons, partly because DIKO has always polled strongly there, and indeed it returns in 2016 to be the top party with a decent increase upon its 2011 performance. DISY and AKEL took a slightly lesser hit than nationally, but EDEK took a bigger hit (but not as big as Limassol) and yet Paphos remains its strongest district. SYPOL gained slightly above its national percentage, riding on the support for its Paphiote leader, who helped his party win a staggering 42% of the vote in his native village of Panagia. This is an important development not least because this is the village of the first president, Archbishop Makarios III, and previously a stronghold for DIKO (and especially AKEL), which claims to have been created to represent the vision and policies of Makarios, who clearly does not loom as large in the Cypriot national consciousness as he previously did.1 But the main story in the Paphos result was the performance of ELAM, which grew a staggering 4.5% from 2011. In broad terms this can be attributed to the 2011 vote of EVROKO dropping for ‘Solidarity Movement’, little gain for the Greens, and DISY votes going to ELAM.
Table IX: May 2016 Greek Cypriot Elections
Source: Ministry of Information, Republic of Cyprus
A closer examination of ELAMs vote across the island provides an insight into its strongholds and whether it is a serious threat in Cypriot politics moving forward. Table X, which shows the places ELAM obtained 7.5% of the vote, indicates that Paphos, Nicosia and Limassol had three places each in the top ten, but Paphos had more in the top 46 (which obtained 7.5% or more), explaining its stronger result there. There are three reasons for the slightly better results in Paphos. The first is that Paphos is at the lower end of the Cypriot socio-economic ladder, with high unemployment, especially youth unemployment, and lower literacy levels, with less students going to university. The second reason is that Paphos was the district that had most opposed the UN reunification plan in 2004,2 and this is reflected in the votes in 2016 for ELAM, as well as SYPOL, DIKO and EDEK.
(despite its drop at 15.40% EDEK still remains most popular in Paphos than any other district by a long way). The third factor becomes evident after studying the location of the majority of the ELAM strongholds, which are essentially across a belt of places immediately north, east and north-east of the town area. These are places such as Letymvou, Lemona, Empa, Chlorakas, Episkopi, Konia, Mesogi, Tsada (which did not make the list at 7.44%) and Tala. With the exception of a handful of AKEL strongholds (e.g. Mesa Chorio and Kallepia) and DIKO bases (e.g. Koili), the above listed places polled incredibly well, without being the poorest areas in Paphos. What unites these places is their traditional conservatism, their proximity to a series of monasteries and churches, and their allegiance to Archbishop Chrysostomos II, who was born in Tala, has significant influence throughout this region, is known for his opposition to a bi-zonal, bicommunal federation and expressed his satisfaction at the election of two ELAM members to the house.
As for the larger strongholds of Politko in Nicosia, Kolossi in Limassol and Paralimni in Famagusta, which was by far the largest place to make the top 46 list, these are the birth-places of the party chairman Christos Christou (Politiko), of Linos Papagiannis (Paralimni), who was also elected, and Kolossi of the third candidate on their list. As with Lilikas and Panagia, the home town of leaders and in some cases candidates, can prove decisive and important in attracting the votes of family and friends in a Cyprus that still values loyalty over ideological and policy choices. The ELAM vote is therefore largely built upon loyalties to candidates and a small protest vote against the right wingparties, but as will be shown is inflated because of absenteeism. story about the May 2016 parliamentary elections is the rise in the absent voter. It is here where most of the lost AKEL voters are hiding, believing that there were no other alternatives. As Table XI shows absent voters have tripled in the last 10 years, that is, since the election before the last, in 2006. Christophoros Christophorou, a frequent analysts and commentator on Greek Cypriot elections, referred to these voters in the context of the 2011 parliamentary election as ‘disengaged citizens’.4 I would prefer the term ‘disillusioned citizens’, since they appear to be making a conscious decision to not vote rather than not being engaged they seem to very much be so. There is no doubt that this is a worrying trend (also evident in the EU elections), especially for the major parties, because it inflates the vote of the marginal parties. Both DISY and AKEL must combat the disillusionment and apathy, starting with the government enforcing the law, since it is compulsory to vote, with an appropriate deterrent (in the form of a fine).
Table XI: Voted and Absenteeism 2001-2016
Source: Ministry of Information, Republic of Cyprus Conclusion and Epilogue
As can be seen from the analysis above, the 2016 Greek Cypriot parliamentary election did not significantly overturn the accepted order of things. To be sure there were winners and losers, but overall the two major parties, and the third party, remain firmly entrenched in their positions, while all others hover at 6% and lower with little prospect of improving unless a merger between two happens. Indeed, such a merger may materialise between EDEK, SYPOL and even the Greens who have little difference in their policies (except the ecology policies of the Greens), all espousing a populist Greek Cypriot nationalism and very moderate socialist/ populist economic policies.
Such an alliance is likely for the 2018 presidential elections given the success of Lilikas’2013 campaign. In fact the two major parties must be wary of the next presidential elections, especially in the event that the island is not reunified, because one of their candidates may not make it to the second round, and the likelihood of AKEL and DISY supporting the candidate of the other is still not strong, despite their alignment as regards reunification. Even though parliamentary elections are not for another five years, both DISY and AKEL (especially) must begin to consider their approach and policies to repair their 2016 electoral losses. They will both need to embrace economic reform, develop improved campaign strategies, and better explain why they support the reunification of the island along the lines of a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation, and how this will benefit the country. In terms of campaign strategies, it is clear that the proportional representation system in Cyprus (at least in the 2016 election) highlights the geographical divide between constituents and representatives, given the support for local leaders and candidates (i.e. SYPOL and ELAM), and loss of support (i.e. AKEL in Kyrenia) when those leaders and candidates leave.
DISY and AKEL must consider selecting more local candidates, who have experience in local issues, perhaps members of the local council, rather than big name personalities, in areas with concentrated populations and where minor parties have strong leaders and candidates. Additionally, it would benefit the three major parties if the minimum threshold was increased to 5%, as in Germany and New Zealand. On the economy, the two major parties may never agree, and that is logical given the ideological differences, yet both need to formulate policies on the restruring of the economy rather than engage in populist politics. To be sure some voters left DISY and AKEL at this election because they fell in for the populism of the minor parties, but the major parties need to argue that those parties are not and cannot form a government, and therefore they can make promises and say what they like to attract voters without being accountable. DISY has adopted a moderate package of economic austerity. This has worked for the short term, but does not address the fundamental weaknesses in the Cypriot economy. AKEL has not really presented an alternative vision, beyond certain principles and vague ideas.
The fundamental problem with the Cypriot economy is the massive differences between the private and public sectors and the inequalities in the pension system, which make state expenditure unsustainable. AKEL needs to take the lead here, especially as regards issues such as the minimum wage, compulsory superannuation and pensions only for those most vulnerable (not for fat cat civil servants). AKEL must reconfigure itself as a centre-left party along more practical lines and modelled on Scandinavian and Australian labour/social democracy movements, thus being able to take votes from both DIKO and EDEK, which are not really social democracy movements, but nationalist parties with populist economics that some commentators (and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the EU) have mistaken as socialist policies.
Finally, there is the issue of reunifying the island and the increased vote of the populist antireunification parties (with the exception of course of EDEK) in this election. No doubt as with economic reform the minor parties will go down the populism path, but DISY and AKEL, who finally seem committed to reunifying the island, must stick to their guns (they still obtained 56% of the vote and seemingly most opposed to a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation have jumped ship) and explain the benefits of reunification to the country and how these minor parties cannot deliver on their policies. In explaining the benefits of reunification both DISY and AKEL need to explain the realities of any compromise settlement, and therefore they need to be more involved and to encourage more general involvement in bi-communal activities, as well as initiate a campaign to better educate society about the past, to break down the walls of the propaganda that blames everyone else for the mass violence and atrocities, and acknowledges Cypriot agency. This may still be one step too far, since it will mean coming to terms with a difficult past. But the ultimate goal will be worth it, both politically and economically. Politically the system and the party politics of the island would dramatically change in favour of bigger parties in the life after reunification. Economically, a united economicplan and international trade outlook, especially in light of offshore natural gas reserves, would likely see both immediate and longer-term benefits for all Cypriots.