Cyprus: Abstention the big ‘winner’

New bi-communal radical left coalition contests euro-elections

In the Cypriot Euro-elections abstention was the big winner, hitting 56.03% (340,025 people). This is the biggest percentage of abstention in Cypriot history. Society is generally partisan; everyone is affiliated on a family basis with a party, so abstention was usually around 20% (except the last euro-elections when it hit 40%). However the abstention levels this time are so high that they cannot be put down to indifference.

Cypriots punished all the main political parties in the elections. The neo-liberal measures that have cut almost 30% of working people’s salaries, resulted in 76,000 unemployed (40.8% youth unemployment), were carried out by both AKEL (Greek Cypriot communist party) when they were in government and by the current right wing government of DISI, along with the Troika (EU, IMF and World Bank). This has caused great anger in society. In recent polls, only 9% of respondents said they trust the political parties, which is reflected in the elections.

Even though DISI was first, with 37.7%, and AKEL, with 26.98%, seemed to manage to maintain their support from the 2013 presidential elections (when they got 26,91% in the first round) in actual numbers DISI lost 14% of their voting power (11,477 votes) compared to the 2009 euro-elections. Similarly, AKEL got 35.5% or 37,070 votes less.

The smaller centre right wing party, DIKO, and the social democratic, EDEK, were demolished in these elections. DIKO (which was in the government until recently) took only 10.83% which is the smallest percentage the party has won in its history (25% less than in 2009). EDEK, the social democrats, lost 43% of their votes.

There were many new electoral formations contesting these elections, mainly economists, technocrats and populists, who in contrast to what are happening in other parts of Europe, did not attract as many of votes as they expected. Symaxia Politon (centrist populists) which tried to attract some of the support of AKEL, won just 6.78% and failed to enter the EU parliament. Another much discussed coalition of right wing populists, economists and liberals, Minima Elpidas (‘message of hope’) won only 3.83%. The other independents gained around 1%.

However the neo-fascist ELAM won 2.69%, which is 2% more than the presidential elections in 2013. They gained 6,957 votes, double the figure in 2013 (3,899) and almost ten times more than the 663 votes they won in the 2009 euro-elections. ELAM took advantage of the anti-party mood, the anti-EU and anti –Troika rhetoric, racism and nationalism that is cultivated by the government and managed to take votes that would otherwise have gone to a strong, left alternative.

Turkish Cypriots vote for first time

In these elections, for the first time, and because of pressure from the EU, Turkish Cypriots in the north of Cyprus had the right to vote. This right should have been given to 95,000 Turkish Cypriot, which could significantly change the result of the elections and seen a Turkish Cypriot MEP elected. As the Greek Cypriot parties would not have been able to control these votes, the government took the right to vote away around 30,000 Turkish Cypriots using bureaucratic obstacles. At the same time, Turkish Cypriots had to travel to the south to vote and at designated polling stations, which made voting less appealing.

The parliamentary Turkish Cypriots parties campaigned strongly against the euro-elections. They argued that their participation meant they would forfeit their right to have separate elections for 2 out of 6 seats in parliament, one of their key demands since 2004. For that reason, they called on people to ignore the elections, attacking Turkish Cypriots candidates which influenced even more Turkish Cypriots not to bother trying to vote. In the end, only around 2000 Turkish Cypriots voted out of the 59,000 that had the right to do so.

Even under these adverse conditions, these elections were a very important turning point. It was the first time Turkish Cypriots have the right to vote and to stand for euro elections. In total, the Turkish Cypriot candidates took 5,216 votes, which mean that there were about 3000 Greek Cypriots who voted for Turkish Cypriot candidates! It was the first time that Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots came together in an electoral battle. It showed the inadequacy of the Greek Cypriot government and state to deal with anything that has to do with Turkish Cypriots. Moreover it shows that we cannot trust them to resolve the national question, since they cannot even accept the right of Turkish Cypriots to vote.

DRASy – Eylem: A new bi-communal, radical left alliance

We had another first in this election: the first bi-communal radical left list in the history of Cyprus. It comprised of four Greek Cypriot and two Turkish Cypriot candidates, fighters from the Left who have been involved in bi-communal and workers’ struggles for decades.

This alliance was put together just one month before the elections and had only three weeks of campaigning. They faced a complete media blackout, especially from the Greek Cypriot media, but still managed to win 2,220 votes (0.86%).

The DRASy – Eylem campaign covered all of Cyprus. It was the first time that an election list held pre-electoral meetings in both north and south of the island, which got a very good response from people.

The CWI in Cyprus, New Internationalist Left (NEDA), participated fully in the Drasy- eylem campaign. One of the four Greek Cypriot candidates, Marina Payiatsou, is a CWI supporter. The campaign showed that there is a big need for an alternative on the Left that would fight unconditionally against the interests of big capital, and for a working class alternative to the dead-end approach to the national question that the leaderships of the two communities have put forward for years.

Drasy – Eylem managed to give an alternative to the people that were fed up with all the parties. Many people told us that they were not about to vote until they met Drasy – Eylem. These included members of AKEL or those close to AKEL, who are very disappointed by the party leadership’s shift towards the right, people searching for genuine collaboration, a common front, between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriots fighting for a solution of the national question.

A week after the elections, we argue that Drasy Eylem should continue. The need for a new Left, and a new bi-communal Left, is still there. Drasy – Eylem has to be transformed from an electoral coalition to a united front organization of the bi-communal Left that can bring Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriots together in struggles against austerity and capitalism, for a united Cyprus for the needs of working people and not in the interests of the ruling elites and the multinationals.

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June 2014