On Sunday 22 May, Cyprus held parliamentary elections to elect 56 new members to the House of Representatives. In a country where voting is compulsory by law, a third of registered voters did not cast their ballots. The elections were the first since Cyprus’ financial crisis in 2012, and saw a far-right party win seats for the first time.
The electoral system
The House of Representatives of the Republic of Cyprus (the Parliament) comprises 80 members who are elected for a five year term. 56 of these seats are filled by the Greek Cypriot community. The remaining 24 are allocated to the Turkish Cypriot community, but they have remained vacant since 1964, when the Turkish Cypriot community withdrew from cross-community institutions such as the Presidency and Parliament.
The ruling party, Democratic Rally (DISY), held onto its majority with 30.6% of the votes, or 18 seats. Left-wing Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL), the main opposition party, suffered the biggest loss of 7.1% down to 25.6% of the votes, giving them 16 seats, down from the 19 they had won in 2011. The Democratic Party (DIKO) won 14.4% of the votes, giving them 9 seats, and the Movement for Social Democracy (EDEK) took 6.1% of the votes, winning 3 seats.
Two small parties managed to reach the recently raised electoral threshold of 3.6% required to enter Parliament: the centre-left Citizens’ Alliance and the Solidarity Movement, who won 3 seats each. In addition, the National Popular Front (ELAM), a far-right party with links to Greece’s neo-fascist Golden Dawn, won 2 seats and entered Parliament for the first time.
Although authorities have relaxed prosecutions in recent years, voting in Cyprus is compulsory by law. Yet, 30% of voters failed to cast their ballots – the highest rate of abstention since the birth of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960.
While the result has no effect on the formation of the government, which is already in place, the results mean that the House of Representative’s 56 Greek Cypriot seats will now be filled by members of eight different political parties which may make the passage of legislation more difficult if the two larger parties are not in agreement. The parliamentary elections were seen as a relatively positive popularity gauge for the Greek Cypriot President, Nicos Anastasiades of the DISY, although the record level of abstention and voter shift to smaller parties is interpreted as a ‘punishment’ to traditional parties, largely thought to be due to their handling of the financial crisis.
Implications for reunification
The elections took place in the context of renewed negotiations to settle ‘the Cyprus problem’. After a year of renewed talks between President Anastasiades, who represents Greek Cypriots in the peace talks, and Turkish Cypriot leader, Mustafa Akinci, significant headway has been made that could potential lead to the reunification of the island since it was split in 1974.
However, ELAM, the Citizens’ Alliance and the Solidarity Movement disagree with the vision President Anastasiades represents in the peace talks of a federal union representing the two different communities. This could possibly complicate the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders’ goal of putting together a deal by the end of 2016. Nevertheless, this does not mean that Greek Cypriots would reject a finalised peace deal if it were put to a referendum.