The parliamentary elections held on Sunday produced a number of ‘firsts’ for Cyprus, none of which are good for the minority Democratic Rally (DISY) government or the main opposition Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL).
Another shock was the record number of abstentions – 32.63% — which helped change the shape of Cyprus politics,
It is the first time in recent history that the two biggest parties received considerably less than two-thirds of the vote. Final results gave them a combined 56.36%–30.69% for DISY and 25.67% for AKEL.
This is a far cry from the 67% that they have been used to and reflects general dissatisfaction with what the main parties had to offer.
Related to the drop in support for the main parties, it is the first time that so many parties (eight) will be represented in parliament.
Despite an increase in the parliamentary threshold to 3.6% from what was effectively 1.8% before, a total of eight parties will enter parliament, compared with six in 2011 (and eventually seven after formations of new parties).
The brand new Solidarity Movement, led by a prominent former member of DISY Eleni Theocharous, looks likely to take three seats, the fairly new Citizens’ Alliance led by George Lillikas is also likely to get three seats. But the biggest shock of the election was that the far-right ELAM will be represented for the first time.
Despite efforts to keep them out by increasing the threshold, they scraped past the new threshold with 3.71% of the vote.
AKEL the key loser
The biggest loser of the night was AKEL, which dropped to just 25.67% of the vote compared with 32.67% in 2011. AKEL leader blamed it on abstentions – voter turnout was low for Cyprus at 67.37% of the vote, compared with 78.7% in 2011.
Moreover, the party that prides itself on solidarity among its rank-and-file failed to get its own voters to come out.
But it is clear AKEL also made mistakes in its election campaign, focusing on the economy and trying to blame DISY for the economic hardships whose roots began when they were in government in 2008-13.
DISY also lost votes, dropping to 30.69% from 34.28% in 2011. But they were happy to have passed the psychologically important barrier of 30%, despite having had to implement a haircut on depositors days after taking office and implementing the bailout programme with the troika of international lenders.
Tough for economy and the Cyprus problem
Things are not going to be easy for DISY, however. At the time of writing it looked like DISY will have dropped one seat to 19, from 20 before.
Another first, therefore, is that the government of the day will need the support of at least three parties to get legislation through – unless there is an unlikely grand coalition with Akel.
Relying on at least three parties will make it tough to pass economy-related legislation, such as the reform of public-sector wages and related rules on merit-based promotions.
With all the smaller parties against the government – Disy and Akel support the peace process – there will be little unity on efforts to solve the Cyprus problem.
As in Europe and the US, the Cyprus elections are a wake-up call for the establishment. Voters are increasingly disenchanted with the old guard, so parties need to restore the trust of the electorate.