26/04/2011 - Analysis
517,571 Cypriots are being called to ballot on 22nd May next to appoint the 56 members of the Chamber of Representatives (Parliament). Around 25 polling stations will be opened abroad for this election. People who want to stand in the election have to register before 3rd May next.
37 years of division
Cyprus has been divided for the last 37 years. Many young Cypriots have never known Cyprus as a united country. Since July 1974 the island has been cut in two by the "Green Line" which is under the control of the UN's Blue Berets. The UN has been stationed in Cyprus since 1963 the year in which the first conflicts started. On 15th July 1974 the National Guard inspired by the military junta in office in Greece since 196, overthrew the President of the Cypriot Republic, Archbishop Makarios III and replaced him with Nikos Sampson. On 20th July Turkish troops landed in Kyrenia (north), to protect the Turkish minority. Nikos Sampson's government, together with the Greek army managed to maintain them behind a line (that then became the Green Line) before collapsing four days later. But Turkey refused to leave the territory it was occupying even after the fall of Nikos Sampson. On 30th July 1974, Turkey, Greece and the UK established a buffer zone guarded by the UN's Blue Berets and acknowledged the existence of two autonomous administrations. On 13th February 1975 the Turkish leader Rauf Denktash proclaimed an autonomous, secular, federal State of which he was elected President the following year. In January 1977 Rauf Denktash and Makarios III agreed on the principle of a dual, federal community but the death of the latter on 3rd August put an end to the negotiations. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus proclaimed its independence in 1983. Turkey is the only State to have recognised it internationally. There are still 35,000 Turkish soldiers stationed in the northern part of the island.
The island is home to 770,000 Cypriots a third of whom are refugees (160,000 Cypriots fled their home when the Turks invaded); 210,000 people live in the northern part of the island. On 11th November 2002 i.e. 18 months before Cyprus entered the EU the UN submitted a third peace and reunification plan (after those of 1986 and 1992). The Annan Plan (named after the then UN Secretary General) suggested the creation of a United Republic of Cyprus in the shape of a confederation of two constituent but mainly autonomous States (Greek in the south, Turkish in the north) using the Swiss Confederation as a model. This plan was submitted by referendum to all of the island's inhabitants on 24th April 2004. The Cypriots rejected it by 75.83% but 64.9% of the inhabitants in the northern part of the island approved it. 89.18% of the electorate turned out to vote in Cyprus where it is obligatory to vote and 87% turned out in the north.
Where are the negotiations up to now?
The United Nations Force (UNFICYP) is one of the oldest UN peacekeeping missions. It comprises 1000 soldiers and 150 civilian staff. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met the President of Cyprus, Demetris Christofias and his "counterpart" from the northern part of the island, Dervis Eroglu (National Unity Party, UBP) in New York on 18th November 2010. Since September 2008 negotiations have been taken up again under the aegis of the UN. However Ban Ki-moon postponed the meeting he was supposed to have with the two men at the beginning of April until June deeming that "discussions over reunification had not made any significant progress." He hopes that conditions will be better after the general elections in Cyprus and those planned in Turkey on 12th June next. He recalled that peace negotiations could not go on forever and that choices had to be made in order to settle the present stalemate so that the island could reunite. He spoke of "negative public rhetoric" believing that public scepticism was growing with regard to the conclusion of an agreement and said that discussions were "not taken seriously by the parties involved," adding, "new dynamics are required to come to significant agreement on central issues in all of the chapters before the electoral rounds are too far advanced. The status quo cannot go on." He asked Demetris Christofias and Dervis Eroglu to renew their efforts and recalled the energy and resources that the UN had invested over the last 37 years to help Cyprus rise above its division. "The polls undertaken show that people are expecting more than discussions and hope that an agreement is reached rapidly," concluded Ban Ki-moon asking them "to show courage and true leadership." According to Alexander Downer, special advisor to the UN Secretary General for Cyprus "it is not a question of knowing whether an agreement is possible but whether the two sides really want it."
No real progress has been witnessed since the resumption of negotiations between the two sides. The election of Dervis Eroglu to the presidency of the northern part of the island on 18th April 2010 after the victory of the National Unity Party in the general elections of 19th April 2009 complicated matters. Cypriot President Demetris Christofias had been negotiating with his predecessor Mehmet Ali Talat (Turkish Republican Party, CTP). He qualified Turkey as being "arrogant and cynical". "I would like to think that after the general elections in Turkey the authorities in Ankara will review their positions," declared the head of State who insisted on recalling the Cypriots were right to reject the Annan Plan which did not provide any real solutions to key issues such as security, guarantees and property rights.
Property rights and territorial limits are indeed the sensitive issues in the ongoing negotiations. The Cypriots are demanding that everyone who has a property in the north of the island be allowed to return there. The Turks reject this believing that the present inhabitants also have rights and prefer the establishment of a financial compensation system.
The Cypriot Political System
The 1960 Constitution has not been applied on the island since the inter-communal conflict of 1963. The President of the Republic, elected by direct universal suffrage for a 5 year period, is also the head of government. According to the constitution the role of president is reserved for a Greek whilst that of Vice-President is reserved for a Turk (the position is currently vacant).
Present President Demetris Christofias (Progressive Workers' Party, AKEL) succeeded Tassos Papadopoulos (Democratic Party, DIKO) on 24th February 2008 winning 53.37% of the vote, in comparison with 46.35% for his adversary, Ioannis Kasoulides (Democratic Assembly, DISY). The government comprises the Progressive Workers' Party, the Democratic Party and independents.
The Vouli Antiprosopon (Chamber of Representatives) is the only chamber of parliament. 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%) by the Turkish Cypriot community. The latter seats are vacant and will not therefore be renewed on 22nd May next. Candidates who want to be MPs must be aged at least 35. All political parties have to win at least 1.8% of the votes cast in order to be represented in the Chamber of Representatives.
Voting is undertaken according to the Hare Niemeyer method within six constituencies: Nicosia, 21 MPs; Limassol, 12; Famagusta, 11; Larnaka, 5; Paphos, 4 and Kyrenia, 3. Voters can choose either one party by ranking the candidates they prefer in this party or they can vote for different parties. Finally parliament comprises 3 MPs representing 3 different communities elected only by the members of those communities. In the outgoing parliament Vartkes Mahtesian is the Armenian community's representative, Antonis Hatzirousos represents the Maronites (Catholics belonging to the Syrian church) and Benito Mantovani represents the Roman Catholics. Each community comprises around 5,000 members each and, live in an enclave, notably the Maronites
6 political parties are represented in the present Chamber of Representatives:
- the Progressive Workers' Party (AKEL), founded in 1926 as the Cypriot Communist Party (CCP) but which has given up some of its Marxist-Leninist ideals. It is the party of the present president of the Republic, Demetris Christofias who is against the reunification plan; it has 18 seats;
- the Democratic Assembly (DISY), is the main opposition party founded in 1976 and lies to the right of the political scale and is led by Nicos Anastasiades; it has 18 representatives;
- the Democratic Party (DIKO), a centre left party founded in 1976 and led since 2006 by Marios Karoyian; it has 11 seats;
- the Movement for Social-Democracy-(EDEK), was founded in 1969 and has been chaired since 2003 by Yiannakis Omirou. A government member until February 2010 – it has 5 representatives,
- New Horizons (NO), merged on June 1st 2005 with European Democracy to become the European Party (EVROKO); it lies on the far right and is led by Demetris Syllouris, with three seats;
- the Ecologist and Environmentalist Movement-(KOP), led by Joanna Panayiotou; it has one seat.
The Electoral Campaign
The Progressive Workers' Party is the only Communist party in office in the EU and also Cyprus is only one of two Communist governments in the world to have been democratically elected (together with Nepal). The party of outgoing President of the Republic Demetris Christofias is against privatisation and more widely it is opposed to economic liberalism (in 2005 it voted against the Treaty for the establishment of a Constitution for Europe which it deemed to be "too neo-liberal"). However AKEL tolerates the economic implications which have come since the island's accession to the EU.
Two years after the start of the international economic crisis the economic situation in Cyprus is a tense one. Nicosia has had to borrow money three times on the financial markets and may be forced to take out a new loan in May or June next. Hence the island's rating was taken down a notch by the ratings agencies Standard & Poor's and Moody's. The latter made the following assessment: inappropriate fiscal measures, lack of structural reform with regard to salaries in the public sector and social transfers which comprise 2/3 of State spending make it difficult to reduce public deficit and debt.
Demetris Christofias has blamed the downgrading of the country's rating on the governor of the Central Bank, Athanasios Orphanides. The head of State stressed that his government which has had to modify its priorities because of the economic crisis had been able to act effectively by stepping up development and by increasing State spending by 300 million euros which led to a 30% rise in retirement pensions and an increase in social aid to a total of 46%.
"We have chronic problems that we are not sweeping under the carpet but which we are trying to resolve," maintained Finance Minister Charilaos Stavrakis (Independent). The government has started to try and reduce the number of civil servants (55,000) who "cost" the State more than 2 billion € (30% of total spending). The number of civil servants has fallen by 1,240 since December last.
On 15th April last the government decided to delay the debate planned on the reform of retirement pensions. Charilaos Stavrakis said that the electoral campaign would provide an opportunity for national debate on the future of the country's retirement system. Meetings that had been planned for a long time between the government and union representatives have been postponed. The opposition forces have criticised outgoing President Christofias for not having kept his promise of taking forward negotiations with the pan-Cypriot Civil Servants' Union, PASYDY. The head of State maintains that several meetings have taken place away from the scrutiny of the press – news which the union's leader, Glafcos Hadjipetrou, has however denied.
On 18th April the Labour Minister Sotiroulla Charalambous (AKEL) suggest a 2.5% increase in the minimum salary, a measure which aims to improve the daily lives of the most vulnerable i.e. young people and women many of whom work in sectors in which there are no collective agreements. The minimum salary is due to rise from 835 to 855 € (from 887 to 907 € after six months work in the same company). Company heads and union members have opposed this measure. The Democratic Labour Federation (DEOK) deems the increase inadequate whilst Michalis Pilikos, director of the Employers and Industrialists' Federation (OEV) stressed that this increase would come at the worst possible moment and that priority should be given to employment and not increasing the minimum salary which in his opinion will necessarily lead to pressure on wages.
Opposition leader Nicos Anastasiades (DISY) criticises President Christofias for his lack of vision and perspective and maintains that the island's situation has worsened under the government of the outgoing Head of State. Nicos Anastasiades wants to change Cypriot policy by encouraging private initiative – the only means to create wealth and produce growth whilst the State is adding to debt and deficit growth.
The leader of DISY favours part privatisation of several government organisations, the establishment of measures to help SMEs which in his opinion are experiencing major problems in borrowing the money they need, he supports increases in social security contributions by civil servants; he would like to see a two year moratorium on new jobs in the public sector and he finally he wants higher taxes on consumer goods (the government increased VAT by 5% on food and introduced a tax on tobacco). According to Nicos Anastasiades the downgrading of Cyprus's credit rating is indeed a result of the policy applied by the outgoing government.
The Democratic Party, a member of the outgoing government coalition recently opposed the Progressive Workers' Party over the President's veto on Cyprus's participation in NATO's peace partnership programme which comprises the final step before gaining membership of the international organisation. The resolution was approved by the Democratic Assembly, the Movement for Social Democracy, the European Party and the Democratic Party in Parliament.
Article 50-1-A of the Cypriot Constitution allows parliament to approve resolutions on subjects that are related to the island's participation in international organisations of which both Greece and Turkey are members. The President of the Republic cannot place his veto on these resolutions. Marios Garoyian, the Democratic Party leader also declared that the Head of State's veto infringed the Cypriot fundamental law. The Progressive Workers' Party criticised its coalition partner for having rallied with the main opposition party, the Democratic Assembly, and accused it of having undertaking secret negotiations which Marios Garoyian has denied. The government's spokesperson Stefanos Stefanou said that the resolution approved by parliament intended to isolate Demetris Christofias rather than serve Cyprus's true interests. However Marios Garoyian, the Democratic Party leader stressed that "We never thought that our participation in government cancelled out our political independence. We never thought that a political alliance meant that we had to merge with another party. This was not, is not and will not be our goal,"
For its part the Movement for Social Democracy deplored the fact that the government did not respect parliament. Former partners of the Progressive Workers' Party within the government coalition it states that President Christofias "lives in virtual reality and embellishes reality presenting Cyprus as a country where there are no problems."
According to the most recent polls DISY the main opposition party is due to win the election on 22nd May with 25.1% of the vote. It should come out ahead of the Progressive Workers' Party (AKEL) which is due to win 23.2% of the vote, the Democratic Party, 11.2%, the Movement for Social Democracy 6.8%, the European Party 3.8% and the Ecologist and Environmentalist Party 2%. The island's future is the main motive behind the majority of Cypriots' votes 54.7%), far ahead of the economy mentioned by 20.8% of those interviewed.
Source: Elections Site