Cyprus: Neo-liberal candidate, Nikos Anastasiades, wins presidential elections

Big attacks on working class loom

After five years of Demetris Cristofias’s ‘communist’ led government, the neo-liberal candidate Nikos Anastasiades won Cyrus’s presidential elections last weekend. Anastasiades won 57.48% of the vote, which is the biggest percentage in the recent history of Cyprus (since the Makarios era – the first president of Cyprus after independence).

The runner up in last week’s elections, Stavros Malas, the independent ‘centre left’ candidate who was supported by AKEL(the communist party of Cyprus), got 42.52%. This was the lowest vote an AKEL-supported candidate has ever received.

This victory of the neo-liberal right was a result of the policies that Christofias’s government and AKEL followed in the previous five years. It shows what happens when the Left chooses not to confront the interests of big capital and fails to make policies in the interests of workers and the poor. By working within the capitalist system, AKEL failed to provide solutions to the massive social problems caused by the deepening economic crisis in Cyprus.

Neo-liberal attacks on workers’ rights

Anastasiades is president of the traditional neo-liberal party of the ruling class of Cyprus, DISY, a strong supporter of the Troika and the ‘memorandum’ (severe austerity in return for ‘bail-outs’ from the IMF, EU and World Bank) as a ‘way out’ of the crisis, and a strong advocate of privatisation.

What has been happening in other countries of the European south is now coming to Cyprus . When in office, AKEL opened the way to this social disaster by applying to the ESM (European Stability Mechanism) for a huge loan. The new president, Anastasiades, who is a staunch supporter of the policies of the German Chancellor Merkel and the dictates of the markets, will carry on this work.

Stavros Malas’s election campaign represented a continuation of the policy that led to a mass rejection of AKEL’s policies when in government . Malas was not offering a real alternative. He was in favour of a memorandum (austerity policies agreement) with the Troika. The only change he proposed was to ask for the immediate recapitalisation of the banks by the ESM and he urged “a more humane memorandum” (a goal that Christofis ‘government of the Communist Party and of the Left‘ failed to achieve).

Christofias’s election in 2008 gave hope to the working that he would radically alter the situation they faced. In the first two years of his presidency, Christofias raised the minimum wage, welfare benefits, put public transport under state control and pushed along negotiations with the Turkish Cypriot President in an attempt to find a solution to the island’s national divisions.

When the economic crisis hit Cyprus instead of taking the opportunity to expose the rotten capitalist system, Christofis ‘communist’ government followed the medicine to the crisis proposed by big capital internationally and in Cyprus. When the first Cypriot bank (Laiki-Marfin) collapsed in May 2012, the extent of the economic crisis in Cyprus was revealed. The Cypriot banks were exposed to toxic debt and bonds, particularly from Greece. Christofias appealed to the ESM in order to get a funds to save the banks. From June 2012, Christofias’s government negotiated with the Troika for a “mild” memorandum. But any memorandum agreed would still result in a cuts in salaries and jobs in the public sector, tax and VAT rises, and cuts in welfare services and benefits.

From 2011, the AKEL government carried out three austerity packages, resulting in a 10% drop in living standards for public sector workers and much more for private sector workers.

All these policies associated the ‘Left government’ with austerity, poverty and unemployment. The right wing capitalised on the anger of working people with a mixture of populism, nationalism and racism. The Right presented itself as the peoples’ ‘saviour’ even though they pushed Christofias’s government to take more austerity measures, and even though they voted for every piece of austerity legislation in parliament.

Neo-fascist candidate

Throughout the last five years of AKEL’s presidency, the conservative, nationalist and neo-liberal tendencies within the Right gained in popularity and the neo-fascist ELAM. Following the example of their sister organization in Greece, Golden Dawn (GD), ELAM supporters physically attacked immigrants while, at the same time, organized soup kitchens for Greeks. The entry of Golden Dawn in the Greek parliament in June 2012, motivated ELAM to hold public events with Golden Dawn MPs speaking.

ELAM ran for the first time parliamentary elections in 2011 when they won 1.08% (4.354 votes, in total). This time, despite all their campaigning and activities with Golden Dawn Mps, they were unable to increase their vote and actually fell to 0.88% (3,899 votes). This decline has given many youth and workers some relief but it should only be seen as providing time to the anti-fascists and the Left to create a mass anti-fascist movement – on the basis of fighting racist divisions and for jobs, decent housing and welfare for all – so that Cyprus does not experience the type of rise in violent fascist street activity and election gains as in Greece.

Big rise in voter abstention

The percentage of abstentions in both the first and second round of presidential elections was historically high for Cyprus. In the first round, abstention, together with spoilt and blank votes, was over 18% and in the second round it was nearly 25%.

These figures show that large sections of society are disillusioned with the main parties and could not be represented by any of the candidates and are in search of an alternative. It shows that there is a political vacuum in society. This can be filled by a genuine Left with an anti-memorandum, anti-austerity approach, and with a programme that will meet the needs of workers and the poor. If the Left does not go forward with such a programme, the results of the elections show there is a real danger that this vacuum will be at least partially filled by the right wing and even the far right.

New Left force, with a socialist programme, urgently needed

During the five years of Christofias’s presidency, New Internationalist Left (CWI Cyprus) argued that AKEL needed to put forward a socialist programme, which was particularly clear after the economic crisis hit Cyprus. During the start of Christofias’s presidency, the statistics for the Cypriot economy were very good (even better than Germany’s) with the sovereign debt below 60% of GDP and a surplus in public finances. The serious problems that arose were fundamentally caused by the crisis in the banking sector. In these conditions, AKEL should have taken an entirely different route and in opposition to the policies demanded by the Troika. And the first measure they should have taken was the nationalisation of the banking system, under workers’ and society’s control and management. What AKEL did instead was to bail out the Marfin Laiki Bank, imposing the burden of the debt on society and allowing the old management to continue at the head of the bank.

Carrying out socialist policies would mean AKEL mobilising the support of workers and youth and inevitably clashing with the interests of the ruling class. The party could then have run with a clear left wing candidate in the recent elections proposing a socialist alternative to memorandum and capitalist ecnomic crisis.

But instead of combating the power of capital and presenting their own candidate for president, AKEL’s leadership decided to manage the system while in office and then back a centre left candidate. In the absence of a fighting, socialist candidate, the right wing are now in power.

Despite the election defeat, the leadership of AKEL seems incapable or unwilling to draw any conclusions, or to enter any kind of self-criticism. The party leaders declared that they will act as a “responsible opposition” that is “factually reasoned” in their first announcements after the elections. They said they will defend the interests of the working people “in accordance with the general interests of society“ (I.e. implying that they will not defend workers’ interests in all circumstances). AKEL leaders went further and declared that they will collaborate with the other parties to deal with the crucial issues of the country. This means collaboration with openly neo-liberal parties, including the government, even if it goes against the interests of the people.

The severe limitations of AKEL’s leadership makes the necessity of a new mass, Left alternative, even greater. Such a socialist alternative would fight:

• Against the memorandum and the Troika

• For the nationalisation of the banks, under workers’ and society’s control and management

• For the non-payment of the debt

• For taxing the rich and the church

• Against cuts and austerity

• To link up with the rest of the anti-austerity movements in southern and northern Europe; fighting to overthrow capitalism and to build a democratic and voluntary socialist federation, on an all-European basis

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March 2013