21/04/2006 - Analysis
On 21st May 470,000 greek cypriots and 1,000 turkish cypriots are called to the ballot box to renew the chamber of representatives, the Cyprus parliament's single chamber. 1,250 voting offices will be open on the island. The main political parties are set to help cypriots living abroad to come back to the island to carry out their civic duty, by chartering special flights and offering low-cost plane tickets. Voting is obligatory in Cyprus. These legislative elections will be held the day after the eurovision song contest, a programme that is extremely popular on the island (86% of cypriots watched it last year) and which will be held this year in athens. Many cypriots, expected to attend this event in the greek capital, will then have to return to their island to vote.
The political system
The 1960 constitution has not been applied in the island since the inter-communal troubles of 1963. Since July 1974 Cyprus has been crossed by a "green line", controlled by the un blue helmets, which divides the country into two parts. The northern part of the island is occupied by the turkish army and has self-proclaimed itself the turkish republic of northern Cyprus, an entity that Turkey alone recognizes at international level. 195,000 cypriots live there compared with 750,000, including a third of refugees from the north, in the south of the island.
In Cyprus the president of the republic is also the head of government. According to the constitution the role of president is reserved for a greek cypriot whereas that of vice-president is for a turkish cypriot (the position is currently vacant). 30% of seats in the government and parliament are also reserved for turkish cypriots. The current president of the island and head of government, Tassos Papadopoulos (democratic party, diko), succeeded glafcos cléridès (founder in 1976 of the democratic union, disy) after the first round of the vote held on 16th February 2003, with 51.51% of votes cast, compared with 38.80% for his rival, glafcos cléridès. The president of the republic is elected by universal suffrage for a mandate of five years. as chief of the executive he nominates the ministers in the government he leads.
The parliament has only one chamber. in july 1985 a law was passed which brought the number of seats in the chamber of representatives up to 80. 56 of them (70%) are elected by greek cypriots and 24 (30%) are reserved for the turkish cypriot community. the latter are vacant and will not therefore be renewed on 21st May. candidates for the position of mp must be aged at least 35. a political party has to collect at least 1.8% of the votes cast in order to be represented in the chamber of representatives.
Eight political parties are represented in the vouli antiprosopon/temsilciler meclisi, (greek and turkish names for the chamber of representatives):
- The progressive workers' party (AKEL), originally communist, has abandoned some of its marxist-leninist ideals. Led by the president of parliament, Demetris Cristofias, it is parliament's leading party with 20 members,
- The democratic union (DISY), main opposition party, to the right of the political spectrum and led by Nicos Anastasiades, has 19 representatives,
- The democratic party (DIKO), the centre party of the president of the republic, Tassos Papadopoulos, has 9 members. It is the pivot party since the vote of its members is always required to obtain a majority,
- The movement of social-democrats-centre union (EDEK), the social-democratic party chaired by Yiannakis Omirou, has 4 representatives,
- New horizons (NO), 1 member,
- United democrats (EDI), led by Michalis Papapetrou, 1 member,
- The people's socialist movement (ADIK), chaired by Dinos Michaelides, 1 member,
- And the ecologist and environmentalist movement-green party (KEP), of which Giorgios Perdikis is general secretary, 1 member.
Three seats are reserved for representatives of the maronite, roman catholic and armenian minorities.
The parliament elected in the last legislative elections held on 27th May 2001 was dissolved on 13th April and the list of candidates for the ballot on 21st May will be closed on 3rd May.
The electoral campaign
The question of reunification, on hold since the failed referendum of 24th April 2004, is at the heart of the electoral campaign. Two years ago, greek cypriots voted 75.83% against the peace plan put forward by the united nations with a view to reunifying the country after 30 years of division and unsuccessful negotiations between the island's two communities, greek and turk. only 24.17% of the population approved the un initiative. On the other hand, 64.9% of turkish cypriots voted "yes" compared to 35.1% who were opposed.
This referendum caused a split in all political parties. Two political parties were born after the referendum, in July 2004 the european democracy party (ED) came into being, the president of which is a mp, Prodomos Prodomou, and in July 2005 the european party (EK) was created, presided over by the mp Demetris Syllouris, a result of the merger of new horizons with other political forces. On 1st May 2004, only the Republic of Cyprus joined the european union, the green line, the demarcation line separating the two cypriot entities thus becoming the union's new external border.
The general secretary of the un, Kofi Annan, sent a letter last January to Tassos Papadopoulos and to mehmet ali talat, leader of the turkish republic of northern Cyprus, to inform them of his desire to engage, once more, in the resolution of the cypriot problem after the legislative elections on 21st may. moreover, the president of the republic has also made known his intention of meeting with mehmet ali talat during the forthcoming meeting of the committee of missing cypriots. This meeting will be the first since the referendum on 24th April 2004.
After being called to order by the european court of human rights, in January the chamber of representatives passed an amendment to the constitution authorising turkish cypriots (about a thousand people), living in that part of the island that is recognized by the international community, to vote in the legislative elections on 21st May. 270 turkish cypriots have registered to vote since last January.
On 22nd September 2004, the european court of human rights found in favour of ibrahim aziz, a turkish cypriot citizen living in the international zone and who was unable to vote in the legislative elections held on 27th may 2001. The european court held that the Republic of Cyprus had violated article 3 of the first protocol and article 14 of the convention of human rights by not authorizing ibrahim aziz to exercise his right to vote. This decision does not apply to cypriots living in the turkish part of the island. A group of 78 turkish cypriots living in the northern part of the island did, however, request their registration on the electoral lists and their desire to stand as candidates in the ballot on 21st May. After their request had been rejected by the republic of Cyprus, they declared that they wanted to bring the case before the european court of human rights.
The poet neshe yashin has drawn attention by becoming the first turkish cypriot candidate to stand for the position as member of parliament. He is standing for the united democrats party. Although voting slips will be written in greek, the minister of the interior, andreas christou, has confirmed that information forms, published in the turkish language, will be available in the thirty voting offices where turkish cypriots voters are registered.
Four opinion polls have been carried out over these past few weeks.
The poll carried out between 1st and 10th April by Sygma TV, gives the progressive workers' party (akel) 32.4% of votes and the democratic union (disy) 30.5%. these two parties are followed by the democratic party which collects 18.3% of the vote and the movement of social-democrats-centre union, with 7.1%.
The progressive workers' party is also ahead in the opinion poll carried out at the same time by the mega poll institute. the party obtains 29% of the vote, the democratic union 27.3%, the democratic party 16.4% and the movement of social-democrats- centre union, 6.4%. According to this poll, 44% of people interviewed have a positive opinion of their government's action, compared to 21% who are of the opposite opinion. Also, one quarter of cypriots (28%) have a favourable opinion of the opposition party, i.e. of the democratic union, compared to 67% who hold the reverse opinion.
Another enquiry, undertaken by cybc's, credits the president of the republic and head of government, Tassos Papadopoulos, with 60% positive opinions. but the island's most popular politician is the leader of the progressive workers' party and president of the parliament, Demetris Christofias, who collects around 65% of favourable opinions across all polls.
Finally, with 26.7% of the vote, the progressive workers' party came top in the latest opinion poll held by mega channel, with the democratic union on 24.8%, the democratic party on 16.3% and the movement of social-democrats-centre union on 3.9%.
When asked about their motivations for voting, cypriots put the problem of the division of the island in first place.
Most cypriots, 52%, expect to see a victory by the progressive workers' party at the election, compared to 24% who see the democratic union coming out on top. About 10% of people questioned said they still had not made up their minds. 75% of voters say that they will be voting on 21st May.
Results of the legislative elections on 27th may 2001
Turnout: 90. 5% (voting is obligatory in Cyprus)
Source cypriot electoral commission