Cyprus 2013

Update: Nicos Anastasiades, the centre-right pro-austerity candidate, was elected with 57.48% against 42.52% for Stavros Malas, the candidate of the ruling anti-austerity communist party (AKEL). Turnout was done marginally, to 81.6%

Presidential elections were held in the Republic of Cyprus (southern or Greek Cyprus) on February 17, 2013. A runoff will be held on February 24. The President is elected by two-round voting for for a five-year term renewable once. Cyprus is a presidential republic with the president as head of state and government.

Traditionally, the major issue in Cypriot politics has been the long-standing Cyprus dispute between Greek Cypriots in southern Cyprus and Turkish Cypriots in the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC), a state which is recognized only by Turkey. Around 80% of the island’s population upon independence in 1960 was Greek, but there was a substantial Turkish Cypriot minority (about 20%). The Turkish population on the island as a whole has probably increased because of immigration from mainland Turkey sanctioned by Turkey and the TRNC but officially regarded as ‘illegal immigration’ by the Cypriot government.

Cyprus gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1960, under a constitution which included numerous safeguards to the Turkish Cypriot minority – for example, the President appoints a Turkish Cypriot as Vice President of Cyprus (in practice, Turkish Cypriots have boycotted the state’s institutions since 1964, leaving the office vacant). Independence was a compromised agreed upon by both sides, given Turkish opposition to enosis – union with Greece – the option favoured by most Greek Cypriots at that point. Archbishop Makarios III, the country’s first President, originally supported enosis but soon realized that enosis was not realistic. However, the Turkish minority felt increasingly marginalized in the new state – dominated by the Greek majority – and ethnic tensions (and violence) erupted in 1963. By 1964, Turkish Cypriots boycotted the state’s institutions and increasingly self-segregated into ethnic enclaves. The minority safeguards in the constitution were dropped.

In 1974, the Cypriot National Guard, backed by the Greek military junta, staged a military coup and deposed Makarios III. The Greek junta had disliked Makarios III, whom they perceived as being ‘soft’ on enosis, ever since they had taken power in Athens in 1967. The Greek military junta handpicked Nikos Sampson – a hardliner who supported enosis (and probably ethnic cleansing as well) – as the new leader of Cyprus on July 15. Sampson’s government lasted only eight days before he was overthrown and Makarios III restored. However, what transpired during Sampson’s catastrophic stint in power has had a major impact on the island to this day. On July 20, the Turkish military invaded northern Cyprus to protect the Turkish minority. Sampson and Greece were able to hold the Turks at a ‘green line’ and a ceasefire was called days later when both Sampson’s government and the Greek junta collapsed. Turkey refused to pull out, leaving the entire northern half of the island under Turkish control with a buffer zone (along the green line) between the two enemies monitored by the United Nations. In 1983, the north declared independence as the TRNC, but only Turkey has recognized it as a sovereign state. The Republic of Cyprus, backed by the EU (of which it is a member since 2004) and the UN, is the sole internationally recognized government and claims de jure sovereignty over the entire island.

The Cyprus dispute and reunification with the north has been the major political issue on both sides of the green line for decades now. In 2004, both sides came close to finding an agreement with the Annan Plan (which would have provided for a reunified confederal state). But the Annan Plan foundered when Greek Cypriots in the south overwhelmingly rejected the deal in a referendum (75% for the no) while Turkish Cypriots in the north were strongly supportive (65% for the yes). The deal offered the north a chance to break its economic isolation and join the EU; but the south had nothing to gain from the deal – it would join the EU regardless and by rejecting the deal it kept the perks of EU membership to itself and would not have to share power with the Turkish minority. In 2003, Greek Cypriot voters elected Tassos Papadopoulos to the presidency on a hardline anti-reunification platform. Conversely, voters in the north elected Mehmet Ali Talat to the presidency in 2005; Tahat was a social democrat who strongly supported reunification.

There was renewed hope on both sides when, in 2008, President Tassos Papadopoulos lost reelection by the first round in the Cypriot presidential election. He won 31.8%, placing third in the first round behind Ioannis Kasoulidis, the candidate of the pro-reunification right-wing Democratic Rally (DISY) who won 33.5% and Dimitris Christofias, the leader of the communist Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL), who won 33.2%. Cyprus’ communists, founded in 1926, have remained one of the major political parties in Cyprus. AKEL supports a federal and independent Cyprus, but the party usually campaigns on economic issues. Christofias defeated Kasoulidis in the runoff, with 53.4%.

Christofias and Talat, two left-wingers with a union background, got along quite well and many hoped that progress on the contentious dispute would be reached because of their strong ties. However, the anti-reunification right was victorious in legislative elections in the north in 2010 and Talat lost reelection to an anti-reunification candidate in 2010. There is little hope for any significant progress on the issue for the foreseeable future, even if the leadership in the south remains favourable.

For the first time in years, economic issues rather than the dispute with the north predominated in this election. Cyprus has been hit hard by the economic crisis and the island’s economic and fiscal situation is rapidly deteriorating. The GDP receded by 2.3% in 2012 and it is projected to remain in recession in 2013. Unemployment has increased from 3.7% in 2008 to nearly 12% in 2012. The country’s debt is rapidly growing (from 48.9% in 2008 to 92.6% in 2013) and the government deficit represented 6.3% of GDP in 2011. The economic crisis was triggered by the significant loses suffered by Cypriot banks, who speculated on the Greek debt and incurred major loses when Greece restructured its debt.

For quite some time, President Christofias denied the severity of the crisis and refused to seek European help, given that foreign aid would be conditional to austerity measures and structural reforms. The government initially responded by increasing spending and increasing pensions by 30%. The international community has criticized Cyprus for the inadequacy of its fiscal measures and the lack of major structural reforms, particularly in terms of social spending and public sector wages (which together account for 2/3 of social spending). The island’s public sector is said to be overstaffed and overpaid, with generous benefits and salaries substantially higher than the private sector. In December, Standard and Poor’s (later followed by Moody’s) downgraded the island’s debt rating to CCC+.

In June 2012, however, Cyprus was forced to ask for a European bailout (like Greece, Ireland and Portugal before it); the terms of this bailout remain under negotiation. A big debt repayment of €1.6 billion is due in June and most politicians in Cyprus agree that European help is urgently needed. Cyprus needs a €17 billion loan spread out over four years, a substantial sum of money representing one year’s worth of the Cypriot GDP. In 2011, Cyprus also received a €2.5 billion loan from Russia, which is influential in Cyprus – nearly a third of the residents of the coastal city of Limassol, for example, are Russian citizens. President Christofias, however, has often balked at the terms of such deals: he strongly opposes privatization of state assets and has been a vocal critic of austerity policies, which he says has worsened injustice and are doomed to failure. That being said, the government has started introducing austerity policies in the last few months: cuts in social spending, a VAT hike and the introduction of retirement contributions for civil servants. Most voters feel that the economy has deteriorated under Christofias’ term and many blame him for the country’s present state. Based on his poor economic record and the lack of progress on the reunification issue, Christofias did not run for reelection.

There were three major candidates in the election. The favourite was Nicos Anastasiades, the leader of the right-wing Democratic Rally (DISY). Anastasiades supports reunification and NATO membership, but he presented himself as the best candidate to negotiate a bailout with the EU, IMF and the ECB (Troika). He supports austerity measures, including partial privatization of state assets and private initiative. AKEL supported Stavros Malas, Christofias’ health minister. Malas urged voters to judge him by his own proposals rather than by Christofias’ record. He too supported the bailout but opposed austerity. The social democratic EDEK supported Giorgos Lillikas, a former foreign minister. Lillikas opposed austerity and the bailout, contending that Cyprus could save itself by using new natural gas reserves to replenish its coffers.

Turnout was 83.1%. The results were:

Nicos Anastasiades (DISY) 45.46%
Stavros Malas (AKEL) 26.91%
Giorgos Lillikas (EDEK) 24.93%
Giorgos Charalambous (ELAM) 0.88%
Praxoula Antoniadou (EDI) 0.61%
Makaria-Andri Stylianou (Ind) 0.43%
Lakis Ioannou (LASOK) 0.29%
Solon Gregoriou (Ind) 0.18%
Kostas Kyriacou (Outopos) 0.16%
Andreas Efstratiou (Ind) 0.10%
Loukas Stavrou (EDIK) 0.05%

Nicos Anastasiades built a towering lead in the first round, but fell short of winning the presidency by the first round as some initial exit polls had indicated. Anastasiades’ campaign has seen his strong showing as an endorsement of its pro-bailout and pro-austerity stance, a result which is likely to be welcomed in Berlin and Brussels as well.

Both Malas and Lillikas, left-wing anti-austerity candidates, did relatively well (slightly higher than in the last polls). Their combined strength means that the runoff will be significantly closer than the first round, even if Anastasiades likely remains the favourite against the candidate of an unpopular outgoing government. But the strong combined support for both Malas and Lillikas, weighing over 51% of the vote, shows that Anastasiades’ pro-bailout and pro-austerity position is not universally popular, far from it.

The official website provides results by district and by municipality. Anastasiades performed best in Ammochostos/Famagusta district, most of which actually part of the Turkish north. He won 55.7% in the Greek part of that district, which includes the popular resort towns of Ayia Napa and Paralimni (where he won over 70%). Anastasiades also performed well in Limassol district, taking 46.2%, and in Lefkosia/Nicosia district (45.1%). Malas did best in Larnaca district, AKEL’s traditional base, taking 33% against 45.5% for Anastasiades. Lillikas performed best in the western district of Paphos, where he placed second with 36.1% against 38.4% for Anastasiades. Anti-reunification president Tassos Papadopoulos had performed best in Paphos district in his unsuccessful reelection bid in 2008.

The runoff will be held next Sunday (February 24). It promises to be slightly more nail-biting than the predictable first round, although Anastasiades should be considered the favourite.

Posted on February 18, 2013, in Cyprus. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Are you going to be doing Armenia at all? Just I am currently here on an electoral observation mission and I’d like to read your reflections.

  2. @CTerry: No, I won’t have time to do it with Ecuador and a big Italy preview post which needs to be up by Saturday. If you’re willing to do a guest post, however, I’d love to put it up! Anything you could offer would certainly be quite interesting and valuable.

  3. I’d love to. I’ll have it to you within 24 hours.

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