Author Archives: Yiannos Katsourides

The Greeks have spoken: End austerity

Sunday, 5 July 2015, Greece held its first referendum since 1974. The Greek people were asked to express their opinion as to whether they would accept the proposals of the international lenders (i.e., the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund), which mandated further austerity measures and more structural reforms of the Greek economy.

Syriza – a grassroots coalition of various leftist groups – won the elections on 25 January 2015, with the promise to end austerity. The budget cuts implemented by former governments at the request of the international lenders resulted in serious hardship for many Greeks, and left a quarter of the workforce unemployed. After five months of fruitless negotiations the Greek government decided to put the proposals of the international lenders before the people, hoping that this might pressure the EU to offer a different and better bail-out program. The Greek Prime Minister A. Tsipras asked the people for a strong ‘No’ vote to strengthen his bargaining position vis a vis the Europeans.

The Greek people endorsed their government’s request: the final count was 38.7% ‘Yes’ and 61.3% ‘No’, with turnout reaching approximately 63%. Moreover, preliminary analyses of the result show clear signs of class voting. The ‘No’ vote has received overwhelming support in the most deprived and working class regions of the country. Conversely, affluent areas were proved to be ‘Yes’ strongholds.

The referendum divided political and social actors, as well as the people, with mass rallies held by both sides as they tried to convince the people of their position on the referendum. The Eurozone officials, as well as ‘Yes’ supporters in Greece, argued that the referendum amounted to a vote on Greece’s place in the Eurozone. This was fiercely denied by the Greek government, who saw it as a demand for an end to austerity, a recognition of the humanitarian crisis in Greece, and a call for help to finance development. It was also a cry for democracy in the EU.

‘Yes’ was supported by the opposition parties, including the right-wing New Democracy party (ND), the social democrats (PASOK), and the centre-right party (To Potami). It was also endorsed by all privately owned media and all employers’ associations. ‘No’ was supported by the two governing parties, left-wing Syriza and the nationalist Independent Greeks, as well as the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. The Communist Party (KKE) called on the people to say ‘No’ to both the government proposals and the international lenders.

All banks were closed the entire week prior to the referendum, and capital controls were also in place (Greeks were allowed to withdraw only 60 euros per day from ATMs). All signs indicated that it would be a very tight race (as also shown in the polls). It was also anticipated that the Greek people would be frightened by the messages of EU political leaders and heads of government who had lined up to warn the Greeks that a ‘No’ vote would be a vote to leave the Euro. However, Greek voters delivered a defiant response to Europe. Indeed, as BBC’s chief correspondent Gavin Hewitt remarked, many voters seemed to revel in their resistance.

The Greek referendum is now in the past. Yet, as is always the case when the people speak, the real question is what they have actually said– given the various interpretations and biases of political actors, analysts and commentators. Regardless of the many interpretations, however, I see two groups of issues that stand out. The first relates to a possible politicization of the EU in Greece and also beyond. The second relates to internal political developments in Greece.

With regard to the first set of issues, the referendum might signal a change in the nature of the EU-Greece relationship. The EU process has always been elite driven, and the people of Greece had never been called to express their opinion on European issues. Their direct involvement for a first time signals a precedent that cannot be easily ignored in the future. By the same token, European issues have been of minor and secondary importance in Greek politics thus far. This was subserved by the fact that Greek public opinion was overwhelmingly and wholeheartedly in favour of EU participation. However, in recent years there have been signs that this attitude is changing. A European cleavage might be in the making; this may also emerge in other countries as well (e.g., Spain).

After five years of recession and welfare cuts, many ordinary Greeks feel bitter; they see how much they have suffered, while Europe’s business elite was able to recover quickly from the financial crisis. Therefore, I believe that any politicization of the EU is likely to be structured along three issues or some combination of the three. Thus, in the European Union of today we can note: (i) the continual decrease in state sovereignty, which means that national governments are left with few resources and little real power to combat the crisis; (ii) the increasing democratic deficit, as revealed/confirmed by recent Eurobarometers showing that not only do EU institutions lack legitimacy, but more importantly, they seem unwilling to hear the different voices articulated by European peoples; (iii) the belief that EU policies do not fairly address the growing social and economic inequalities and the rising levels of unemployment, especially under circumstances of economic crisis. The EU is increasingly viewed as part of the problem and not part of the solution. At the same time, the EU leadership is also faced with important decisions regarding the future of the European project, and the Eurozone in particular.

With regard to the second set of issues, i.e., Greek internal politics, the referendum outcome has already prompted important changes within the largest party of the opposition, ND, with its leader A. Samaras resigning. The opposition seems to lack reliable leadership to face Tsipras, since the Greeks blame them for bringing their country to the dire state it is in today. The KKE will probably have a very difficult time explaining its position of refusing to choose either alternative, and most importantly, its decision to not vote ‘No’ given their long-standing opposition to the EU.

However, it is not only the EU leadership and the Greek opposition that face critical days ahead. Tsipras and Syriza must use all their abilities and creativity to reconcile what seems to be an impossible mission. They need to respond in a way that does not disappoint their supporters, they must keep the party’s internal opposition at bay, and they must also strike a deal with the international lenders. Having declared in all possible ways that they only see Greece’s future in the EU and the Eurozone, and having won the referendum demanding an end to austerity, Tsipras and Syriza must now find a solution for the pressing financial needs of the state and at the same time be convincing enough that the new agreement is compatible with their leftist background and their promises.

The 2015 Turkish Cypriot elections: Towards a redefinition of the relationship with Turkey?

The Republic of Cyprus was established as a bicommunal state in 1960 after 82 years of British colonial rule. While the bicommunal state was constructed as a unitary system, its constitution stipulated consociational features that ensured firm checks and balances between the two communities (Bahcheli 2000). For example, the constitution provided for a Greek Cypriot (GC) president and a Turkish Cypriot (TC) vice-president who were elected by members of their own communities; each could veto the other over foreign affairs, defense, and security.

The bicommunal government established at independence collapsed after just three years, triggering communal violence and the withdrawal of the TCs from all government institutions in 1964. After a Greek-led coup that prompted the 1974 invasion by the Turkish armed forces and the subsequent de facto division of the island, virtually all TCs settled in the Turkish-controlled territory in the northern third of the island. Since then, GCs and TCs have searched for ways to reconcile their political differences and find a mutually acceptable solution to the Cyprus problem; for 40 years all such efforts have been unsuccessful, given the two communities’ opposing visions of federalism. It seems that the majority of TCs, having exercised self-rule for nearly 40 years, prefer to maintain a separate TC ‘state’ (Bahcheli 2000).

Self-rule was embodied in the formation of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ in 1983; the ‘TRNC’, however, is actually an illegitimate quasi-state, and is not recognized by the UN nor any other country in the world but Turkey. According to the constitution, the executive branch of the ‘government’ consists of the ‘President’ who is the Head of State, and the council of ministers led by a ‘Prime Minister’. The ‘President’, who is elected for a five-year term, is also the state’s Commander-in-chief, although typically the security forces answer to the ‘Prime Minister’ with Turkey making all crucial decisions. The ‘President’ chooses his ‘Prime Minister’ from those elected to the legislative assembly, and the two together appoint all other ministers, who need not be elected members. The power vested in the president’s office places the elected President at the heart of the political system. This, combined with the importance attached to the negotiations for the solution of the Cyprus problem (for which the ‘President’ is responsible), adds moral weight to the presidential powers.

The April 2015 elections were the seventh time the TCs went to the polls to elect their leader, the first being in 1985. In total, 21 candidates have stood in these seven elections. Rightist-nationalist Rauf Denktash won the first four elections, followed by (leftist) Mehmet Ali Talat in 2005 and (rightist) Dervis Eroglu in 2010. The lowest ever turnout was in 1995 (80.1%). The 2015 voting featured four major candidates (seven in total): the incumbent D. Eroglu, supported by the two major parties of the right – the National Unity Party (UBP) and the Democratic Party (together accounting for 50.49% of the vote in the 2013 parliamentary elections); Kudret Ozersay (independent and former head of the Turkish Cypriot negotiation team); Sibel Siber, speaker of the ‘parliament’ and candidate of the Republican Turkish Party –CTP (38.38%); and Mustafa Akinci (independent), supported by the Communal Democracy Party and the United Cyprus Party (combined vote 10.56%). All major candidates but Eroglu were considered to be pro-solution albeit in varying degrees, with Akinci being the most committed to finding a settlement.

In view of the forthcoming new round of negotiations announced to start on 15 May 2015 after months of stalemate, the TC elections were considered critical, and by both political analysts and the media. The voting was crucial in another respect. In recent years, TC politics have been marked by increasing fluidity and realignment. At the heart of this process lies the relationship between the TCs and Turkey, as well as voters’ disillusionment with the traditional political parties, both the right and the left. As a result it was very difficult to interpret public opinion regarding the 2015 elections based on the polls, which offered contradicting predictions throughout the campaign.

Fluidity and fragmentation among the electorate and the political actors were already evidenced in the parliamentary elections of 2013 and the municipal elections of 2014, which were combined with a referendum over constitutional changes. Both elections, as well as the referendum, revealed political behaviours outside the traditional TC voting behaviour. The traditional right-wing majority failed to produce results, whereas the mainstream left also failed to draw significant support. The results indicated shifting voting patterns, both within (intra) and between (inter) ideological blocks that favoured new movements and organizations, both of leftist and center-right nuances.

For many TC analysts these new trends are indicative of an ongoing restructuring of the relationship between Turkey and the TCs, away from the traditional ‘mother-child’ relationship and towards the weaning of the TC community from Turkey. This restructuring seemed to begin in the aftermath of the failed 2004 referendum for the Annan plan. There are very many TCs who consider Turkey as rather like ‘the IMF of Northern Cyprus,’ not only because it adopted an intransigent position regarding a settlement in Cyprus, but because it imposed severe austerity measures on the ‘TRNC’ (Bozkurt 2014).

Following the 1974 invasion, Turkey’s involvement in the north of Cyprus was always obvious and intense (Ozsaglam 2003); this was especially true with regard to electoral politics, with Turkey favouring right-wing parties and candidates. Changes in the TC community over time, however, led Turkey to distance itself from the 2015 elections — at least overtly — for the first time; its interference in 2010 proved a failure and it was possible that a new intervention could backfire.

The results of the first round of the voting were a clear sign of the changes taking place and can be described as a surprising upset of power relations. There were two obvious winners and two losers: Akinci and Ozersay on the winning side and Eroglu and Siber on the losing end. Eroglu finished first, polling 28.15%, just above half of the combined percentages of the parties’ supporting him, whereas Akinci polled 26.94%, well above the percentages of his supporting parties. Ozersay polled 21.25%, a very high score given his independent status and without any party endorsement. Siber polled merely 24.27%, representing only 63% of her party’s voters. Akinci and Eroglu progressed to the second round where Akinci comfortably won by 60.3%.

Akinci’s electoral victory cannot be explained solely as the rise of the Left in the TC community. It is far more complicated than that. His high score in the first round, well above the accumulated percentage of the two leftist parties supporting him, means that he managed to win votes not only from the supporters of the center-left CTP but also from those traditionally voting for right-wing parties. This was more explicit during the second round of the elections. Akinci benefited from the split in Eroglu’s party, UBP, as well as from the disillusionment amongst the left wing constituency and especially the supporters of the CTP. The latter was criticized for its conformist position and especially because of its perceived subservience to the conservative AKP government in Turkey.

Akinci’s win signals strong support for the new Cyprus-centered societal trends in the TC community. His victory symbolizes what a Turkish commentator called ‘the secular and peculiar resistance of the Turkish Cypriot identity’. Essentially, his election reflects both a protest against Turkey’s power in the ‘TRNC’ and at the same time a strong desire to find a solution to the Cyprus problem. Akinci is a firm supporter of a federal bicommunal state and he has also stated his intention to open the closed city of Varosha (of high symbolic significance for GCs) under the auspices of the UN as a measure of good will. His candidacy represented TC communal claims for dignity and political equality with Turkey, as well as the preservation of the Cypriot aspect of TCs identity.

Arguably, his relation with Turkey will be crucial for a(n) (un)successful tenure, given the ‘TRNC’s’ total economic dependence on Turkey. Immediately after his election he was engaged in a war of words with Turkey’s President Tayip Erdogan. Erdogan criticized Akinci for his position on Turkey, saying: ‘We paid a price for northern Cyprus. We gave martyrs and we continue to pay a price. For Turkey, northern Cyprus is our baby. We will continue to look at it the way a mother looks at her baby’. Akinci’s response in a live interview with CNN Turk, was clear: ‘Doesn’t Turkey want to see its baby grow up? Should we always be a baby?’.

Akinci has taken on the arduous task of leading a community that has lived in uncertainty for more than four decades. His election has given many TCs new hope that they might be able to act in a politically viable way, express their political agency and take their fate in their hands (Bozkurt 2015). Delivering his promises and maintaining a balanced relation with Turkey will be his most difficult task amidst a volatile internal setting. Many people fear that Akinci will eventually succumb to Turkey’s demands. Turkey’s Prime Minister Davutoglu implied this when he declared that: ‘The same thing happened when Mr Talat came to power but he stayed on the rails’. Alternatively, Akinci’s election could turn into an opportunity for the resolution of the Cyprus problem in a way that could also unlock the impasse in Turkey’s EU membership.


Bahcheli, Tozun (2000). ‘Searching for a Cyprus Settlement: Considering Options for Creating a Federation, a Confederation, or Two Independent States’. The Journal of Federalism, 30 (1-2) (Winter/Spring), pp. 203-216.
Bozkurt Umut (2014). ‘Turkey: From the ‘Motherland’ to the ‘IMF of Northern Cyprus’?. The Cyprus Review, 26 (1), pp. 83-105.
Bozkurt Umut (2015). ‘Yes we can? Mustafa Akıncı and a new hope for Cyprus’. Retrieved 3 May 2015.
Ozsaglam Muhittin (2003). ‘The Role of Turkey in 14th December Elections in Northern Cyprus’. The European Rim Policy and Investment Council (ERPIC) © 2003.