Cypriots voted yesterday (22 May) in an election that produced a record low turnout for parliamentary polls after a three-year economic downturn and amid widespread disillusion with politicians.
Exit polls showed the ruling rightwing DISY party as winners with between 29 and 33% of the vote, but they also forecast the most fractious assembly ever with the possibility of the far right ELAM entering parliament for the first time.
DISY would secure up to 21 seats, one more than their current tally of 20, while the exit polls gave the communist AKEL between 25 and 29%, dropping from 19 to 18 seats.
The polls indicated the 56-seat parliament could be enlarged to eight parties from the previous five.
Election officials gave an initial turnout of 67%, with the record low abstention rate of one third — up from 21% in 2011 polls for parliament — seen to have played into the hands of smaller parties.
President Nicos Anastasiades, whose rightwing government negotiated a 2013 eurozone bailout and has claimed credit for the island’s subsequent recovery, had warned voters not to abstain, although without referring to the country’s statutory obligation to vote.
“I urge everyone to exercise their right to select the party, the candidate, of their choice — it is their right. But anyone who abstains, I repeat, will not have the right to complain afterwards,” the president said.
The two largest parties, Anastasiades’s DISY and the main opposition AKEL, spent most of the election campaign trying to persuade their disillusioned rank and file to turn out and vote.
Scandals and disenchantment
A spate of corruption scandals in public office and parliament’s handling of the eurozone bailout agreement have sparked widespread anger and disenchantment with the political scene.
ELAM’s entry into the Cypriot parliament would echo the wave of rightwing populism that has swept through Europe.
ELAM defends the Athens-inspired coup of 1974 that sought to unite the island with Greece and that triggered Turkey’s invasion of its northern third ushering in a division that remains to this day.
Progress on UN-backed talks to reunify the island was not an election issue because both the main parties support reunification of the divided island under a federal roof.
The negotiations are at a crucial stage and Greek Cypriot leader Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akıncı must make painful compromises to reach a deal.
Cyprus has emerged from three years of economic slowdown after the government imposed harsh austerity measures in exchange for European Union and International Monetary Fund bailout.
In return for €10 billion, Cyprus agreed in March 2013 to wind down its second-largest bank, Laiki, and impose losses on depositors in undercapitalised top lender Bank of Cyprus.
In March this year, the euro group of finance ministers praised Cyprus for its successful exit from the bailout programme.
And the Cyprus economy is expected to grow by 2.2% in 2016.
A total of 542,915 people were eligible to vote on Sunday, with a record 493 hopefuls standing for parliament. Official results are expected by midnight (2100 GMT).