17/02/2008 - Analysis - 1st round
On 17th February next, 515 000 Cypriots, including 350 Turkish Cypriots, are being called to ballot to elect the President of the Republic, who also takes on the role of Prime Minister. The Turkish community living on the southern part of the island is being allowed to vote in the presidential election for the first time.
The Cypriot Political System
The Constitution dates from 1960 but has not been applied since the intercommunity conflicts of 1963. Since July 1974 the country has been divided into two by a "green line" that is controlled by the UN Blue Berets. The northern part of the island is occupied by the Turkish army and is the self proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, an entity only recognised by Turkey.
195 000 Cypriots live there in comparison with 750 000 in the Southern part of the island (this includes one third refugees from the North). According to the Cypriot Constitution the presidential role is reserved for a Greek Cypriot, that of Vice-President, for a Turkish Cypriot (the position is vacant at present). The President of the Republic is elected by direct universal suffrage for a five year term in office. As head of the executive office he appoints the government that he leads. 30% of the seats in government and Parliament (24 out of 80) are reserved for the Turkish Cypriot community and at present they are also vacant.
To date five personalities are running for the position of President of the Republic:
- Tassos Papadopoulos, 73 years old, outgoing President supported by the Democratic Party (DIKO), the Movement of Social Democrats-Centre Union (EDEK), the European Party (EK) and the Ecologist and Environmentalist Movement-Green Party (KEP) ;
- Demetris Christofias, 60 years old, president of the Chamber of Representatives, the only chamber in Parliament, for the last two terms in office, leader of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL), supported by the United Democratic Movement (KOP).
- Ioannis Kasoulidès, one of the leaders of the main opposition parties, Democratic Rally (DISY), former Foreign Minister (1997-2003) in the government led by Glafcos Cléridès and MEP since June 2004 ;
- Marios Matsakis, MEP (DIKO);
- Costas Themistocleous, former Minister of Agriculture, natural Resources and Environment.
The Electoral Campaign
Ioannis Kasoulidès was the first to announce he was running on 13th June 2007. On 23rd July the outgoing President of the Republic Tassos Papadopoulos publicly announced that he would be running. "You elected me President of the Republic to guarantee your rights and not to throw them away. You elected me so that we could find the best solution to the Cypriot problem and not to turn to colonisation that would destroy the Republic of Cyprus.".
On 11th June some days before Tasso Papadopoulos's announcement four government ministers (Healthcare, Foreign Affairs, Communication and Internal Affairs), members of the Progressive Party of Working People left the government coalition to enable the AKEL leader, Demetris Christofias to stand in the presidential election.
During the four and a half years they have governed together the two main government parties have already confronted each other over several issues. At the beginning of 2007 the Progressive Party of Working People asked for a year's delay before the adoption of the euro (planned for January 1st 2008), a request rejected by Tassos Papadopoulos. The future of Cyprus was also a source of conflict between the government partners; Demetis Christofias accuses the outgoing President of neglecting matters and accepting the island's division.
Just one month before the Presidential election Tassos Papadopoulos and Demetris Christofias are fighting a bitter battle. The Progressive Party of Working People leader describes their work together within the government as 'difficult'. He maintains that his party only chose to stay in power to ensure that Tassos Papadopoulos honoured his campaign commitments. "The President of the Republic repeatedly used public finance as an excuse to explain why he could not implement such and such a measure," indicates Demetris Christofias. This has been denied by the outgoing President.
"Everyone wonders what happened to Tassos Papadopoulos and Demetris Christofias for them to have drawn knives just two days before January 1st, but what is really surprising is that both men managed to govern together for four and a half years," analyses Ioannis Kasoulidès who qualified Tassos Papadopoulos's government as "an oriental bazaar which was not suited to a European State."
To settle the problem of the island's division Demetris Christofias says he would support a federal solution and is recommending the establishment of an independent, demilitarised, neutral country. This stance may very well win him the support of the Turkish Cypriots on 17th February next.
The issue of reunification, suspended after the failure of the referendum on 24th April 2004, forms a major part of this electoral campaign. Nearly four years ago 75.83% against 24.17% of Cypriots rejected the UN peace plan to reunify the country after thirty years of division and unsuccessful negotiations between the island's Greek and Turkish communities. However 64.9% of the Turkish Cypriots voted in favour in comparison with 35.1% who voted against. On 1st May 2004 the Republic of Cyprus integrated the European Union; the 'green line' that marks separation between the two Cypriot entities thereby became the Union's new external border.
Tassos Papadopoulos and Mehmet Ali Talat (Republican Turkish Party, CTP), President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus last met in September 2007. Mehmet Ali Talat and his Prime Minister Ferdi Sabit Soyer (CTP) believe that the re-election of Tassos Papadopoulos would reduce any hope of reunifying the island. He therefore offered to meet the outgoing President in a televised debate before the first round.
In October 2007 Tassos Papadopoulos sent a letter to UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon putting forward an 8 point plan enabling the implementation of the Agreement settled on 8th July 2006, signed by both parts of the island and approved by the UN; in this agreement both leaders committed themselves to reunifying the island, to the need for a global settlement, to a rejection of the status quo and to the immediate launch of bi-community discussions. The outgoing President maintained at the beginning of January that he wanted to take up negotiations again for the reunification of the island recalling however that he would be the guarantor that no one would impose a solution on the Cypriot people.
Demetris Christofias presented his electoral programme on 14th November last. He assured the Cypriots that he did not intend to form a communist regime: "My candidature is supported by people across the entire population. If I win my government will comprise progressive personalities."
Tassos Papadopoulos published his programme at the beginning of January. The outgoing President made 19 socio-economic promises including the reduction of public debt, the improvement of Cypriot living standards, the increase in social aid and the attribution of a 13th month of wages for the military.
Marios Matsakis announced that he was running in the presidential election on 28th December last. This atypical personality was excluded from the Democratic Party in 2005 after accusations of receiving antiques were brought against him. He is campaigning against the presence of two British military bases on Cypriot territory, Dhekelia, in the south-east of the island nearly Larnaca and Akritori near Limassol in the south. There is an ongoing dispute between the UK and Cyprus about the occupation of these two military bases. In order to be stationed on their territory the Cypriots are demanding compensation from the British which the latter paid for four years before challenging it. According to Nicosia a backlog of unpaid rent totals several million euros. Marios Matsaki is fighting for the reunification of Cyprus stressing that if the Turks refused, the creation of two separate states would be the best solution for the island.
Finally Costas Themistocleous is standing in order to warn the Cypriots about the importance of the dangers they are running if nothing changes. "The first thing I would do if I were elected would be to go to Mehmet Ali's office and say to him "My friend I am ready to talk." A stop must be made to rejection and work must be undertaken to find a solution based on Cypriot reality. "We cannot achieve anything by ignoring one half of the island and pretending that we are the representatives for the whole of Cyprus," he declared.
According to the most recent poll published on 13th January last by Politis, Ioannis Kasoulidès will be running ahead in the first round on 17th February with 30.5% of the vote. He is said to be slightly ahead of the outgoing President Tassos Papadopoulos, who is set to win 30.3% of the vote. Demetris Christofias is credited with 29.1% of the vote. Ioannis Kasoulidès and Demetris Christofias are popular amongst the young (18-24 year olds), also a great number of women say they intend to vote for the Democratic Rally candidate. Marios Matsakis is due to win 2.2% of the vote and Costas Themistocleous, 0.1%.
However a poll that came out on the same day in Simerini declared that Tassos Papadopoulos would win in the first round with 32.5% of the vote ahead of Demetris Christofias (31.9%) and Ioannis Kasoulidès (28.1%). Marios Matsakis is due to win 1.9% and Costas Themistocleous 0.5%.
Undoubtedly the presidential election on 17th and 24th February next will be the most closely run one in the last few years.
Reminder of presidential election results in Cyprus 16th February 2003
Turn out: 90.5% (it is obligatory to vote in Cyprus)
Source: Cypriot Government