The ruling liberal conservatives in Cyprus took a hit at the polls, after departing from their traditionally pro-EU stance and moderate approach to the country’s division. That the main opposition party fielded a Turkish Cypriot candidate did not make matters any simpler, although it did produce an interesting outcome.
Cyprus’s ruling liberal-conservative Democratic Rally (DISY) suffered a blow in the European elections in May.
Having won 37.75 percent in 2014, its share of the vote fell to 29.02 percent. This may be a result of DISY’s ideological shift towards nationalist rhetoric and away from its traditional pro-EU and moderate approach to the long-standing division of Cyprus.
The nationalist shift coincided with the hard-line position taken by president Nicos Anastasiades on fundamental aspects of a compromise concerning the division of Cyprus proposed under the auspices of the United Nations. This has resulted in complete deadlock for two years and in the escalation of tensions and claims made by Turkey relating to the exploration of natural gas resources on the continental shelf surrounding the island.
Just one month before the ballot, Anastasiades and DISY entered into a fierce confrontation with the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL). This was sparked by the latter fielding a Turkish Cypriot candidate, the academic Niyazi Kizilyurek.
Despite facing a concerted campaign against him, Kizilyurek successfully secured his place as an MEP.
He was able to draw on broad support from among pro-peace sections of Greek-Cypriot society as well as from Turkish Cypriots – numbering around 4,500 according to exit polls – many of whom crossed from the north to exercise their voting rights in the European elections for the first time.
This development is of great importance for the political scene in Cyprus and the strict separation of voting rights between Greek and Turkish citizens since the establishment of the Republic in 1960. DISY lost a section of its moderate supporters, who mostly chose to abstain or to give their support to Kizilyurek.
The election results did not ultimately change the share of seats in the European Parliament among the parties. DISY (EPP) and AKEL (GUE-NGL) retain two seats each, while the nationalist centrist Democratic Party and the Movement for Social Democracy EDEK (both S&D) retain one seat a piece.
Finally the neo-Nazi ultranationalist party ELAM, the Cyprus branch of Greece’s Golden Down, received 8.25 percent of the vote. In absolute numbers ELAM has seen a rapid increase of influence in Greek-Cypriot society, where it may have had as few as 500 supporters in 2009. The figure for 2019 is estimated to be around 23,500.
Younger and more marginalized voters in particular tend to find the party’s patriotic and anti-establishment neo-Nazi slogans appealing in a Greek-Cypriot society that is confused about its political future and relations with the northern part of the island. However, the party’s share of the vote was not sufficient for it to win a seat in the European Parliament.
This article is published in association with Eurozine.
Eurozine describes itself as “a network of European cultural journals, linking up more than 80 partner journals as well as associated magazines and institutions from nearly all European countries.”