The context for the recent presidential elections in Cyprus was laid by three parametres.
1. The elections were held at a time of extreme economic uncertainty as the capitalist crisis grows more intense every day.
2. In Cyprus today there is widespread disenchantment with, and profound distrust in, the major social and political institutions (especially political parties and politicians). This has led to a weakening of electoral alignments, increased political fragmentation and electoral volatility – unusual for the highly politicised Cypriot society.
3. It was the first time in Cyprus that the communist Left headed the government, with its former party leader as President of the Republic. It was difficult for communist AKEL to govern an EU member state and preserve its radical identity, to balance its support for the government/the President and its own distinct identity. There were also much-inflated expectations that the party would solve both the Cyprus problem and internal affairs, making it difficult for the party to deliver its promises.
Given this context the major traits of these elections included:
· The right-wing DISY, led by Nicos Anastasiades, returned to office after ten years of isolation claiming 57.48%.
· The economic crisis sidelined discussions regarding the Cyprus problem for the first time in Cyprus’ electoral history.
· Traditional partisan loyalties continued to decline. The voting abstention rate (18.42%) was the highest in the history of presidential elections in Cyprus.
· For the first time communist AKEL faced considerable obstacles in rallying round its chosen candidate – a non party member personality of the centre-left (S. Malas). However, it managed to survive the scare of being left out from the second round despite polling less (26.91%) than the party strength (32.67%).
· The Greek Cypriot extreme Right made a standing for the first time in presidential elections, claiming 0.88% (3,899 votes). Their presence was more a statement of intent (with regard to the next parliamentary elections) than a substantive interest in the presidential elections per se.
· An ideological shift to the Right was evident in this campaign and was also reflected in the election results. This could perhaps be related to the first-ever occupancy of the executive by a left-wing president, which resulted in increased anti-communist and anti-leftist feelings among the population.
· The role of the media was differentiated compared to other elections and therefore deserves notice. Despite asserting their non-bias, the majority of the media endorsed a common strategy against the Left and for one particular candidate (Anastasiades).
Party System: Signs of Reconstruction?
Many Cypriots believe that the political party stranglehold is coming to an end. Whether this is true, premature, or entirely false remains to be seen, especially in light of the pending EU Memorandum, which will likely act as an instigator of change. However, evidence of change is already visible.
With regard to the Left, AKEL has become politically isolated for the first time in the post-1974 era. The party will need to address fundamental issues in the coming period and consider repositioning itself within the party system: e.g., issues relating to the party’s ideological identity, its social and political alliances, etc.
DISY’s honeymoon will probably be very short given the dire economic situation of the country. The new president will have to address highly significant and potentially divisive issues in the forthcoming weeks and months including privatisations of public enterprises and further austerity measures.