Category Archives: Cyprus

Cyprus – Electoral politics and the 2018 presidential elections

The inglorious conclusion of the discussions for finding a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem between the leaders of the two Cypriot communities last July and despite the personal involvement of the UN Secretary General has set the context for the campaign for the forthcoming presidential elections in the Republic of Cyprus (RoC). The first round of the elections is scheduled for 28 January 2018 and if a second round is needed this will take place on 4 February. Interestingly, the elections were brought forward by two weeks because they overlapped with one of the most popular public feasts in Cyprus, probably the most popular, the carnival, and amidst fears for increased abstention because of that.

Four candidates have already announced their candidacy and it is expected that at least two more will join them: the current right-wing president N. Anastasiades, former president of the right-wing Democratic Rally (DISY), who is supported by DISY (30.69%); N. Papadopoulos leader of the Democratic Party-DIKO (14.49%), who is supported also by the social democrats EDEK (6.18%) and the Solidarity Movement (5.24%), while the Greens (4.82%) are also expected to support him; S. Malas supported by the left-wing AKEL (25.67%), the former governing party; and G. Lillikas president of the Citizens Alliance (6.01%). The extreme-right ELAM (3.71%) is also expected to place an independent candidacy, whereas the press reports that the Rector of the University of Cyprus is also considering running in the elections appealing to the non-partisan voters and those that systematically abstain and who comprise a large section of those entitled to vote.

As already explained in previous posts, the presidential system of Cyprus requires alliances between the parties to win election. These alliances have been shifting constantly. Although three of the four candidates (except Papadopoulos) also ran in the 2013 elections, in these elections the pattern and dynamics of alliances have shifted once again. In 2013, President Anastasiades was supported by two other parties beyond his own party DISY (DIKO and the right-wing European Party) which have now plead allegiance to N. Papadopoulos; G. Lillikas was supported back in 2013 by EDEK which is now supporting Papadopoulos and a large part of DIKO voters that disagreed with their party’s endorsement of Anastasiades at the time, whereas Malas is again supported by AKEL as in 2013. In 2013 the left-wing AKEL and Malas were in a very disadvantageous position having to defend a government that the people believed was the worst in the history of the Republic. Anastasiades, in 2013, was seen as the leader that could both solve the Cyprus problem and more importantly lead Cyprus out of the economic crisis.

These elections will be contested on two major issues – the Cyprus problem and the economy – around each of which conflicting narratives are presented by the candidates and their supporting parties. After falling back on the agenda for the first time in the electoral history of Cyprus, the Cyprus problem is expected to dominate political discussions once again. A resurfacing of the 2004 cleavage between pro-solutionists and the more hard-liners seems to have resurfaced in the last few months, with citizens, the press and political parties once again taking sides in hotly contested public debates.

The current president N. Anastasiades is considered the favorite to win reelection. However, he finds himself in the middle of crossfire. Anastasiades is targeted both by the pro-solution camp and the more hard-liners. The former accuse the president of missing a great opportunity to reach a solution to the long-standing ethnic conflict because he was already thinking about the elections ahead and because he knew that the more nationalistic part of his party’s electorate and the entire populace would never endorse a solution that provided for power-sharing with the Turkish Cypriots. The more hard-liners accuse the President of completely yielding to the demands of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots and that the only reason an agreement was not reached was because Turkey wanted even more.

The prominence of the Cypriot problem, however, does not mean that the economy will play no part; on the contrary. While Cyprus’s economy is now more stable than in 2013, unemployment is still high, many people are in need of public allowances and the conditions in the labour market have worsened for the working class. Two opposing narratives are already developing. The government and DISY support that the idea that the economy is now entering a phase of stability and growth, whereas the opposition parties and candidates accuse the government of numerous scandals, favouritism towards the big capital and ephemeral growth.

The most crucial aspect of this election campaign concerns the degree to which parties and candidates will succeed in convincing their supporters to go to the polls. As recent elections indicate, a process of dealignment is taking place whereby the electorate is now more suspicious of parties and more volatile than ever before; a quicksand!

Cyprus – Presidency, Parliament and Law Activism

The Zurich-London agreements that established the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) in 1960 and the Constitution of the RoC contain provisions for the establishment of a presidential regime with a Greek Cypriot president elected by Greek Cypriots and a Turkish Cypriot vice-president elected by Turkish Cypriots. The executive power was vested in the Greek Cypriot president and the Turkish Cypriot vice-president, both enjoying veto power in three particular policy areas: external relations, security, and defense. Veto was designed to create a balance between the two communities and to ensure that no community would enforce its position on the other. However, as early as in 1961 the balance was brought into question and led to repeated constitutional blockages. Each party used its right of veto to block the propositions of the other party.

Following numerous deadlocks and after increased intercommunal tension, in 1964 the Turkish Cypriots left their posts in the governing and state institutions. In order to keep the newborn Republic running, the House of Representatives – consisting only of Greek Cypriot members – enacted legislation (the law of necessity) that allowed the state and the government to continue their operation. In this way the President assumed all the powers of the vice president and has had very few checks on his authority ever since.

Beyond the full right to veto legislation on a range of issues, the Greek Cypriot president of the RoC has the right to return a bill back to the House for reconsideration and/or the right to refer legislation to the Supreme Constitutional Court. Given the peculiar political conditions of the RoC with the political problem still unresolved, all presidents have been very cautious in using the right of veto. In actual fact, veto power was never exercised by any president. This was mainly due to political reasons, in order to fence off criticism that they utilised powers designed and intended for other purposes and so that they could not be accused of abusing the powers vested in a bicommunal state.

Presidents have confined themselves to the other two tools provided by the Constitution, most often on occasions when the legislature interferes with executive responsibilities and when it inflicts added cost on the state budget. It is worth noting that the Supreme Court usually vindicates the President’s view of referred bills. Both of these tools have also been used with cautious, not least because the parliament rarely questioned the executive’s authority.

In view of recent developments in the Cypriot political system whereby the House of Representatives and the political parties have utilised certain powers that they have never used in the past, openly challenging the president’s authority could have significant consequences on the ability of the government to pass legislation. In response, the Presidents have also used their arsenal of powers and have resorted to the two tools provided by the Constitution.

In the last few months the President of RoC, N. Anastasiades, has returned to the House of Representatives or referred to the Supreme Court a number of legislative bills. For example, in May 2016 a total of 16 bills on a variety of issues that were passed by the House just a few days before its self-dissolution before the parliamentary elections were either referred to the Supreme Court or returned to the House; an indication of how politics is increasingly mediated by law activism.

Most recently, a bill regarding the commemoration of union with Greece (enosis) was also referred to the Supreme Court. This particular bill was earlier voted by the opposition parties except the left-wing AKEL (the governing right –wing DISY abstained) and provoked the immediate and intense reaction of the Turkish Cypriot leader leading to a two-month pause in the negotiations for the solution of the Cyprus problem. Reactions were also intense in the RoC by AKEL and various pro-solution activists. In trying to find a solution, the governing DISY proposed legislation that gave the Education minister the power to decide which historical or other events would be commemorated in public schools. The bill was voted by the AKEL MPs and was thus passed.

However, the president referred the bill to the Supreme Court. The government said that he did so on the advice of the attorney-general who said that it probably clashed with the provision on the separation of powers in the constitution. AKEL said the president’s decision to refer the law to the Supreme Court raised reasonable questions: for example, why did he not consult with his own party before the latter submitted the bill, pointing to a highly politicized decision in view of the forthcoming presidential elections in February 2018.

The decision to refer this particular bill to the Supreme Court highlights three important points which necessitate further analysis. First, issues of history continue to inform today’s political situation and thus affect the course of the negotiations re the Cyprus problem among others. Second, blocking the passage of governing bills by parliament could have long-term effects and ultimately change the balance of power between the executive and the legislature. Third, there is a current trend in Cypriot politics to increasingly involve the courts and the Attorney General in political decision-making processes, which begs questions about the nature and scope of politics.

Cyprus – Can a rotating presidency and cross voting change the rules of the game?

The current constitution of the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) provides for separate political representation between Greek and Turkish Cypriots – the two major communities of the island; a direct effect of British colonial legacy. This is vividly reflected in presidential politics where the constitution stipulates that the Greek Cypriots (GCs) elect the president of the country and the Turkish Cypriots (TCs) the vice-president. The cabinet, according to the constitution, comprises 10 members: the GC president appoints seven GC ministers and the TC vice-president appoints three TC members. Between them, the president and the vice-president share all vital political powers, including the right of veto as a means to maintain the balance between the two communities. The veto was particularly designed to safeguard the TC community from majoritarian decisions taken by the Greek majority, but it proved to be a constant source of problems and tension.

In the short and turbulent period that the RoC actually functioned – from 1960 to 1963 and before the TCs withdrew from the state and government institutions in 1964 – the two communities remained totally independent/separate from each other at the political level. The 10-member cabinet functioned on a purely communal basis: the GCs acted solely on the basis of their community interests and the same did the TCs. The possible consequences of the cabinet members’ decisions upon the other community incurred no political cost for them since their selection did not depend upon voters from both communities. In the contrary, polarization and political competition with the ‘others’ solidified further their political presence. As a result, the Cypriot political and power system practically rewarded intransigent and extremist approaches, political forces and politicians and made division between the two communities an inherent feature of the political system and particularly the executive branch.

Following the Turkish invasion of July 1974 numerous rounds of negotiations between the leaders of the two communities did not manage to reach a solution to the problem of Cyprus’ de facto partition. Moreover and throughout the long history of the negotiations, the leaders of both communities never questioned this divisive provision for political representation, thus prolonging a past practice of separation. However, this changed in 2010 when the former leaders of the two communities achieved a consensus for a comprehensive system of political representation based on two axes: a rotating presidency between the elected leaders of the two communities and cross voting between the two communities for a first time in Cyprus political history. The aim behind this proposal was to eliminate a basic source of conflict within the system of representation and particularly the executive, which was a crucial – but not the sole – reason for the ineffectiveness of the existing constitution. The proposed formulae represents an effort to disconnect the vote from solely ethnic criteria and make the two elected leaders dependent upon the vote of voters from both communities. In this way, it is thought that unifying trends can prevail within the political system and society at large.

The voting formulae
The guiding principal of the voting process is ‘one person, one vote’. The elected president would need to secure 50% plus one vote in either of the two rounds of the elections. The same applies for the vice-president. However, given the numbers of the two communities with the GCs amounting to 80% of the population this principle, if applied on nominal terms, this would result in a permanent election of a GC president. Moreover, and probably more important, the GCs would be able to select the TC vice-president even without a single Turkish Cypriot voting for that particular TC candidate. Therefore, a golden formulae was needed that would overcome this barrier. Hence, the leaders agreed that in the case of the GCs their vote will be weighted in order to equal the number of the TCs that will vote for the GC candidate and vice versa.

Interdependence
According to this proposal, those standing for election although not on a joint ticket – as provided in the initial proposal of the then GC leader – will need to address the ‘other’ ethnic audience since their votes will count in the result. Given the long history of separation and other practical impediments, this proposal provides for a systemic motive to seek cooperation between candidates and parties, which will extend to other areas as well. Hence, more synergies will be created. Parties and candidates will need to include in their programmes and their campaigns issues important for the other community and propose solutions. For a party or a politician to remain relevant in the federal political system, they must seek for alliances with the ‘other’ community. In the long-run, it is expected that this system will turn Cypriot politics away from ethnic forms of confrontation and towards class and ideological lines of opposition.

Those parties and candidates that are not willing to address the ‘other’ community will be gradually sidelined at least with regard to the federal government and institutions. In a context where every vote counts it is assumed that it will provide utilitarian motivation for all political forces and politicians to link with the other community.

Although this consensus is yet to be officially agreed, it still remains a possible game changer regarding the future of Cyprus and the peaceful cohabitation/cooperation between the two communities.

Happy New Year? Christmas and New Year’s addresses by European presidents for 2017

This post marks the third time that I have written about selected presidential Christmas and New Year’s addresses by European presidents (see 2015 and 2016 here), so that it is now becoming a tradition of its own. This year’s speeches differed only little in focus from last year, as the refugee crisis and security concerns continue to determine the public debate, yet speeches took a more political tone in a number of countries. At the same time, this year also saw some ‘firsts’ – newly-elected Estonian president, Kersti Kaljulaid, gave her first New Year’s address and Austria (for the first time in decades) had no New Year’s address at all.

Slovak president Andrej Kiska reading out his New Year´s Day Address | © prezident.sk

Presidential Christmas and New Year’s Addresses tend to be a mixture of reflections on the political and societal events of the last year and general good wishes for the festive period or the new year. While the previous year had already seen an increase in political content, this year even more presidents referred to concrete events and policies – first and foremost the terrorist attack in Berlin on 19 December 2016. German president Gauck’s Christmas message was clearly dominated by the attack, yet stressed the need for compassion, highlighted efforts by volunteers both after the Berlin attacks and in helping refugees, and called for unity over sweeping judgments. Slovak president Andrej Kiska dismissed xenophobic sentiments in his New Year’s address even more directly, acknowledging a deviation from usual end-of-year reflection and highlighting his disagreements with the government over the issue. The Slovak government has not only strongly opposed taking in any refugees, but also includes the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) and recently passed a more restrictive church law specifically targeting Muslims (which was promptly vetoed by Kiska). Quite in contrast to these conciliatory words, Czech president Zeman used the opportunity claim a ‘clear link between the migrant wave and terrorist attacks’. In his 20-minute address – far longer than any other presidential holiday speech – from the presidential holiday residence at Lany, he also attacked the governing coalition, spoke about banning internet pornography and expressed his admiration for Donald Trump and his ‘aggressive style’.

The Christmas speech of Polish president Andrzej Duda also took an unusually political turn as it started off with much praise for government reforms. Although the Polish government, too, refused to accept refugees under the EU compromises, references to EU crises remained relatively vague. Remarkable, however, was Duda’s call to ‘respect the rules of democracy’ which was clearly aimed at the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition which criticised what they in turn perceived as the unconstitutional behaviour of the governing party (see here). The address by Duda’s Croatian counterpart, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, was also in remarkable as she devoted the entirety of her speech to condemning recent increases in intolerance and the simultaneous glorification of past fascist and communist regimes which she then linked to the fact that “busloads of young people are leaving the country each day” and called the government and all parties to action. Italy’s president Sergio Mattarella likewise urged parties to take action  to avoid the ‘ungovernability’ of the country, yet mostly focussed on listing the concerns of citizens and various tragic deaths rather than providing a very positive message.

Bulgarian president Rosen Plevneliev used his last New Year’s address as president to highlight more positive achievements, such as the ten year anniversary of EU accession (also mentioned by Romanian president Iohannis in his very brief seasons’ greetings), a rise in GDP and successful completion of the presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. While stressing the need for further reform, President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades also provided a more positive message focused on the progress in the negotiations about a reunification of the island, also thanking people for their sacrifices in implementing the financial bail-out completed in 2016.

Hungarian President Ader with sign language interpreter (left); Latvian president Vejonis with his wife (right)

On a different note, Hungarians and Latvians might have been surprised to see additional faces in the recordings of presidential messages: Hungarian president Janos Ader’s speech was simultaneously interpreted into sign language by deaf model and equality activist Fanni Weisz standing in the background, whereas Latvian president Raimonds Vejonis even shared parts of the address with his wife. For those interested in ‘pomp and circumstance’, the address by Maltese president Marie-Louise Coleiro is highly recommended as the recording features a praeludium and a postludium by a military band in gala uniform inside the presidential palace (Youtube video here).

Last, for the first time in decades Austria lacked a New Year’s address by the president. Although Alexander Van der Bellen was finally elected president in early December, he will only be inaugurated on 26 January 2016. His successor, Heinz Fischer, finished his term already on 8 July 2016 and the triumvirate of parliamentary speakers (which incidentally include Van der Bellen’s unsuccessful challenger, Norbert Hofer), who are currently serving collectively as acting president, did not provide any New Year’s greetings.

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A full list of speeches is available for download here.

Cyprus – The Mont Pelerin Talks and the Day After

The negotiations for the Cyprus problem are entering a new and critical phase. Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci have decided to move the process one step further. The two leaders acknowledged that significant progress had been achieved on many of the outstanding issues -mainly those of power sharing and governance, economy, EU matters and property- and they can therefore proceed with talks over one of the most controversial and difficult issues of the Cyprus problem: territorial adjustments. This new phase will take place outside Cyprus in an isolated resort in Switzerland, Mont Pelerin, from 7 to 11 of November with the aim of working exclusively and undisturbedly on bridging the gaps between the two sides and pave the way for an international meeting to discuss safety issues.

This new phase is determined by a number of intertwined issues and processes that might equally create a favourable condition for reaching a solution to this long unresolved problem or end up once again in a deadlock. These issues include, inter alia: the developments in Turkey following the failed coup in July that led to increased authoritarianism by T. Erdogan’s government and how this will be reflected in their positions on the Cyprus problem, particularly regarding the most critical issues of this process (safety mechanisms, presence of the Turkish army, guarantor rights); the escalation of the conflict in Syria and Iraq; the easing of the tension between Israel and Turkey as well as between Turkey and Russia; the outcome of the presidential elections in the USA; the resources of natural gas in Cyprus exclusive economic zone; internal political factors and mainly the intense conflict between the political parties in Cyprus.

Despite public protests by most Greek Cypriot political parties, President Anastasiades has the backing of his own governing party, the right-wing DISY, and of the major opposition party, the left-wing AKEL; together they comprise approximately 56% of the electorate. Moreover, the UN, the EU and the USA have expressed their wish to see this process through and their willingness to provide support in order for the talks to be successful. Russia also stated its commitment in helping out for a solution although it warned that this solution must be the result of the Cypriots free will and that it should not provide for guarantor rights, the presence of armed forces and accession to NATO. There seems to be an international agreement that the Cyprus problem is on the verge of conclusion. In addition, a few days ago the Cypriot government has proposed to cancel the December 2016 local elections because of the ongoing discussions for reforms at the local level of administration that will see the number of municipalities decrease; a proposal immediately denied by all other parties except the governing DISY.

All the above make many people believe that a solution might be within reach this time and this triggers discussions and disputes among the Greek Cypriot political actors. These discussions are dominated by two main concerns: power sharing between the two communities and security; both concerns are further sub-divided in other areas of anxiety. All these, in turn, trigger the ‘fear factor’, i.e., legitimate but also exaggerated concerns over a possible agreement because of the stakes involved; most profoundly the reconfiguration of power structures and mechanisms both between and within the two communities.

Power sharing – although not easily admitted publicly by any of the actors – conceals the fears and objections, and at the same time reveals the perceptions and stances of the Greek Cypriot political actors regarding the entering of a new arrangement that will see them sharing their political authority with the Turkish Cypriots. Greek Cypriots are accustomed to governing on their own in a unitary state; the prospect of sharing this power with the Turkish Cypriots in a federal state activates concerns but also resistance.

Security factors include broadly speaking two set of issues: economic concerns and safety. The first set of factors involve issues such as the economic cost of a possible solution and how and in which ways the everyday life of the people will be affected; the economic cost of implementing the solution and who will bear this cost; the economic cost of the compensations required for those that properties will not be reinstated, etc. The second set of issues includes questions over the continuation or not of Turkey’s guarantor right to intervene in Cyprus; the presence of Turkish military forces and/or bases; and the number of Turkish settlers that will legally remain in Cyprus.

Both concerns are triggered by a number of interlinked factors: a disruption of everydayness; the fear of the unknown; the fear of being relegated in decision making mechanisms; the effect on economic entrenched interests, etc. The opposite reading, however, is also valid: those who strongly support a solution may also benefit economically and politically by it. Most Greek Cypriots wonder whether a possible solution will actually improve their life or will it lead to it being ‘swamped’ by dysfunctionalities and conflicts.

The President of the Republic of Cyprus, N. Anastasiades, is arguably in a very delicate and difficult position. Some argue that he is totally committed to a solution and that he will do his best in this direction. His choice of addressing the people two days before going to Switzerland was received as an indication of a preparatory stage for informing the Greek Cypriots about a forthcoming solution. Others argue that with the next presidential elections approaching (February 2018) he will stall the process until he is first reelected. The latter argument is based upon the significant power vested in the presidential office which no president easily surrenders. A possible agreement will signal a change in the power structure and thus threaten the status quo. Regardless of intentions, on the day after Mont Pelerin we will all be in a better position to judge whether a solution is within reach.

Fragmentation and Dealignment: the 2016 national elections in the Republic of Cyprus

On 22 May 2016, Cypriots went to the polls to elect their deputies for the 11th time in the short 56-year-old history of the Republic of Cyprus. There were 543,186 eligible voters and 494 candidates– the most ever in Cyprus’s electoral history, and which corresponded to one candidate for every 1099 voters. There were a total of 13 parties and platforms ranging from the left to the far right and covering niche agendas such as the Animal Party as well as individual candidates.

In the end, the elections were basically little more than a fight among the political parties amidst a largely indifferent electorate. It was a fight between big parties and smaller parties; a fight between the two largest parties to secure the lead in the balance of power and in view of the forthcoming presidential elections of 2018; a fight between the smaller parties for survival and for the lead in the so-called middle space; a fight among all parties against abstention; a fight within the parties for who would be elected.

The context of the elections was defined by three parameters. First and foremost was the huge crisis of legitimation of the entire political system.

Second were the repercussions of the bail-in of 2013, which caused the economy—for the first time in parliamentary elections– to be the most important issue of the elections but not the only one since negotiations for a possible solution to the long-standing Cyprus problem had been revived, bringing the issue into headlines again.

Finally, there was the decision to increase the electoral threshold from 1.8% to 3.6% just a few months before the elections. This was a joint decision of the two major parties (AKEL and DISY), an obvious attempt to keep out unwanted newcomers (e.g., the extreme right ELAM) and also limit their losses to smaller parties. This act invited the severe criticism of the smaller parties as they accused the larger, mainstream parties of authoritarianism, criticizing their decision as undemocratic.

The campaign was rather short by Cypriot standards and was a far cry from the passionate campaigns of the past. Indifference among the voters was the principal characteristic of these elections; polls indicated that approximately one-third of the voters would abstain.

The parties focused on a variety of different issues: the two major parties (AKEL and DISY) stressed the economy in lieu of the Cyprus problem and the ongoing negotiations; this was done to highlight their differences in the face of accusations by the smaller parties that their stances on the Cyprus problem were too similar. Thus, the other parties focused on the Cyprus problem while criticizing the two main parties of cooperation and of making too many concessions towards the Turkish side. This perceived cooperation necessitated, according to smaller parties, a decrease in the total vote for these two main parties.

In terms of the results, the most telling story of this election was the high degree of abstention, 33.26%; this sets a record for Cyprus post-1974 and reveals an 11.96 % increase from 2011. This figure is even more important if we factor in the 22,000 (out of the 32,000) youth who were eligible to register yet declined to do so. Although not confined to the younger cohorts, exit polls revealed their turnout to be the lowest.

Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 11.33.57

The results reveal that the biggest winners are center-right DIKO and all the smaller parties except EDEK; the biggest losers are the two main parties and especially left-wing AKEL (table). DIKO is the only historical/mainstream party that managed to maintain its seats despite the loss of approximately 13,000 voters; the party also managed to retain its modulatory role in the middle space.

Together, the newly founded parties polled 14.26% (including those that did not enter the parliament), a clear indication of voter frustration with the mainstream parties. In contrast, the entire ‘middle space’ –i.e., all other parties except the two big ones– polled 36.73%, a very important development since together they have the largest representation in the parliament. This fact does not mean that these parties are ideologically similar; at the same time, however, their differences should not be underestimated. Their parliamentary representation shows that they can have a considerable say in all future developments on the island, and especially with regard to the Cyprus problem: these parties all profess a more hard-line position, albeit to varying degrees.

Messages from the elections

These elections reveal interesting patterns and offer important insights.

First of all, the elections reinforce the trend in Cyprus towards dealignment, which indicates a crisis of representation. Abstention has become a systemic feature of Cypriot electoral politics. However, election results also revealed a partial realignment, with up to 25% of voters, according to the exit polls, changing party allegiance.

Second, if we consider the election results in Sartorian terms, the party system of Cyprus seems to resemble the polarized pluralism model. For a second time in its history, the Cypriot parliament houses eight parties compared to only six previously; this has significant implications both for the internal working of the parliament and for the relations between the legislature and the president. In this regard, cooperation and alliances between parties will become more complicated than ever before, which will definitely affect the president’s ability to pass legislation. In turn, this will affect coalition building with regard to the forthcoming presidential elections.

Third, the elections also reveal a shift in the Cyprus party system’s ideological center of gravity: the center-right, albeit more fragmented now, has increased its vote share at the expense of the center-left. In 2011 the center-left represented by AKEL, EDEK and the Greens polled approximately 44%, whereas in 2016 their overall share dropped to approximately 37%. The center-right (including the extreme right), represented by DISY, DIKO, Citizens Alliance, Solidarity and ELAM, rose from 51% to approximately 60%. This could be related to, and could also explain, as many scholars argue, the inability of the (center) left to provide feasible alternatives for overcoming the huge economic crisis, which reinforces conservative reactions among the electorates.

Fourth, the strength of bipolarism has declined considerably. Although AKEL and DISY still command more than half of the votes, together their vote total 56.36%, down from 66.95% in 2011. These losses represent the price they paid for holding the executive in this turbulent period, which saw both parties failing to meet the expectations of their constituencies. This decrease combined with the increased vote share of smaller and new parties verifies the trend shown in other recent elections, i.e., that Cyprus has entered an era of increased fluidity. Nevertheless, the new parties’ breakthrough does not prove their endurance, which must be tested in consecutive elections.

Fifth, these elections are the first in which an extreme, ultra-nationalist, right-wing party garnered enough votes to win seats in the House of Representatives. ELAM, sister party of the Greek’s Golden Dawn, tripled it vote share to elect two MPs. Their presence in parliament offers them an institutional/legitimate channel to air their (populist) views, while their anticipated marginalization by other parties will probably act as a public signifier of their fake ‘anti-systemeness’. In turn, this could help them fuel their propaganda and consequently their electoral fortunes, especially amidst the ongoing negotiations for a possible solution to the Cyprus problem. However, their mere participation in the parliament is also an expression of their incorporation in the political system and their acceptance of the political rules.

Finally, the two big parties’ decision to increase the electoral threshold to their benefit not only failed but even backfired. Many analysts now say that this act has created a reverse dynamic against the big parties and actually helped the smaller parties gain seats in the House.

Cyprus – Campaign promises in the era of austerity

When the current President of Cyprus, N. Anastasiades, assumed office back in February 2013 he probably did not expect that in a few weeks’ time he would find himself in the middle of a “perfect [economic] storm”.

The crisis was evident as early as 2009, but it did not begin to really affect Cyprus until post-2011, especially after the Greek loan haircut in October 2011. However, the real effect of the crisis on the people of Cyprus was not felt until March 2013 following the bail-in agreement with the consortium of Cyprus’ international lenders, i.e., what has come to be known as the Troika: the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank.
Although the signs were present throughout the campaign, no one actually anticipated the avalanche that followed. Accordingly, the current President has failed to deliver a number of issues that he promised during his campaign. Two of the most important promises concerned his commitment that he would never accept a haircut on deposits and that he would not proceed with privatizations of publicly owned organisations.

Nonetheless, post-2013 presidential elections developments in the economy were dramatic. The final form of the Memorandum the government signed with the Troika destroyed Cyprus’ economic model overnight. The new Memorandum differed fundamentally from the memorandums that have been implemented in other south European countries in one crucial aspect: it provided for the ‘rescue’ of the banking system through the method of bail-in, i.e., with funds from shareholders, creditors and depositors of the two largest banks of the island, instead of external recapitalization (bail-out).

A scheme of privatizations of profitable public companies (e.g., the Electricity and the Telecommunications Authorities) and ports, contracting of public spending, further deregulation in the labour market and a reduction in the number of civil servants were also agreed. Additional structural reforms to improve competitiveness and alleged growth prospects were also agreed in an effort to rectify Cyprus’s financial problems.

However, the results have been frustrating. Overall, Cyprus’ economy as a percentage of the GDP declined by 7.7 per cent since 2013 registering the highest contraction since the Turkish invasion in 1974. As a result, public debt increased by 29.3 per cent of the GDP, up from 79.3 per cent in 2012 to 108.2 per cent in 2014, representing the biggest increase in the EU.

Various data testify to the social dumping Cyprus is experiencing, though they are not solely attributable to the memorandum. For example, unemployment increased from 11.8 per cent in 2012 to 16.1 per cent in 2014, whereas the net immigration rate was, for the first time, negative both in 2013 and 2014. The number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion rose to 230,000 (27.4 per cent of the total population) and income inequality increased from 31 per cent in 2012 to 34.8 per cent in 2014 (Gini index). The non-performing loans have aggravated to such an extent that the banks and the Troika demanded the sale of these loans to third parties.

As was more or less expected, since March 2013 the bulk of political debates have concerned the austerity measures provided in the Memorandum. Under the strict surveillance of the Troika the government is trying to implement the Memorandum; however, this means that the President and the government must default on their promises. Although not a new phenomenon in Cyprus politics, it is scrutinized more intensely both by citizens and the media in recent years. Elected officials have no grace period any more.

Probably the most significant change in this new era (marked by the signing of the memorandum with the Troika) relates to issues of trust in political institutions, legitimacy and accountability. Legitimacy and political trust are crucial since political institutions as well as political actors can deliver as long as they enjoy the trust of their constituents. The core issue in sustaining the public’s trust is accountability and the ability to deliver on their promises.
Historically, Cypriot governments were able to meet their promises, at least considerably more than they have done in recent times. The economic crisis represents a game changer in this discussion. The current president himself justified breaking his promise that he would not impose a haircut on deposits, saying that ‘they [the leaders of the Eurogroup] put a gun to my head’.

Non-performing loans, strengthening the supervisory framework for restructuring loans, the issue of the sale of loans and the implementation of structural reforms and privatizations are currently amongst the most controversial issues. A couple weeks ago the Cabinet approved the privatization plans of the Cyprus Telecommunications Authority overriding the objections of all the trade unions, which staged a protest outside the Presidential Palace.

Essentially, since the enforcement of the Memorandum the elected government in Cyprus has been sidelined and the real government is now the Troika. This in turn raises issues crucial to the proper functioning of democracy in the country and which the political personnel –particularly the President – has to address in order to avoid an implosion similar to what happened in Greece.

Happy New Year? Christmas and New Year’s addresses by European presidents for 2016

In the first blog post of 2015, I explored the origins of and various customs and conventions surrounding the Christmas and New Year’s addresses by European heads of state. This year, I will look more closely at the content of these speeches (although focussing – for the sake of brevity – only on presidents, i.e. non-hereditary heads of state this time).

Finnish Niinistö records his New Year's speech for 2016 | photo (c) Office of the President of the Republic of Finland 2016

Finnish president Sauli Niinistö records his New Year’s speech for 2016 | (c) Office of the President of the Republic of Finland 2016

As I noted in my post last year, Christmas and New Year’s addresses rarely rarely belong to the most important political speeches in European democracies and often include a short summary of the last year’s events in the country. Common themes (apart from holiday wishes) are relatively rare. This year, however, many presidents directly addressed the refugee crisis in Europe. The presidents of Austria and Germany who have had to deal with extraordinary refugee streams both called for compassion and tried to strengthen the ‘can do’-spirit that has so far characterised the reactions of Federal Chancellors’ Merkel and Faynmann and volunteers in both countries. Presidents of other countries hit by the surge of refugees did not address the issue so clearly. Hungarian president Ader referred to it among other unexpected events of 2015, while the Slovenian and Croatian presidents Pahor and Grabar-Kitarović in their – significantly shorter seasons’ greetings – did not raise the issue at all apart from vague references to difficulties.

The refugee crisis featured more prominently on the other hand in the speeches of Slovak president Kiska and Czech president Zeman – yet taking almost diametrically opposed positions. Kiska largely downplayed the issue stating Slovakia was much less affected than other countries and the issue should not dominate the national agenda. Zeman on the other hand, called the influx of refugees as “an organized invasion” and called for young male refugees to return to their country to fight ISIS. Given Zeman’s previous statements this is hardly surprising, yet it is generally unusual for a Christmas message to include such controversial material. The refugee crisis also took centre stage in speeches by Finnish president Niinistö as he justified the steps taken by the government to limit the number of people receiving help.

Another theme in presidential speeches were national tragedies and the security. The Paris attacks featured strongly in French president Hollande’s speech, so did the Germanwing air crash in German president Gauck’s Christmas message. The ongoing Ukrainian crisis and potential conflict with Russia as well as the war in Syria were included in a number of speeches. Yet presidents also focussed on the economic situation and way of the recession – most prominently included in the messages of the presidents of Greece, Portugal and Iceland. The latter’s speech was however mostly reported on due to the fact that president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson announced that he would not run for a sixth term as president.

Overall, this once again highlights that presidential Christmas and New Year’s addresses can be important indicators of the political situation or the importance of particular events throughout the year. Until now, there has nevertheless been only very limited academic research on presidential statements on these occasions. So far, I could only find an analysis of the role of religion in new year’s addresses by Swiss Federal Presidents – showing an overall decline in biblical references throughout the years. [1] In most European republics appear to follow this trend – explicit biblical references beyond a mere reference to the holiday can only be found in the speeches of the presidents of Malta and Hungary.

Christmas - NY presidents 2016 + Wulff 2011

From top left to bottom right: Presidents Higgins (Ireland), Duda (Poland), Wulff (Germany; 2011), Coleiro Preca (Malta), Iohannis (Romania).

Last but not least (and partly inspired by the DailyMail’s analysis of the photographs on Queen Elizabeth II’s desk), I think it is worth looking at the setting of presidents’ speeches. Where speeches are broadcast on TV (or recorded and then put on youtube), the setting is surprisingly similar with the president usually sitting or standing in front of flags or a fireplace. In Germany, this set-up had so much become the norm that Christian Wulff’s walking speech among a group of surprisingly diverse citizens (see centre image of above collage) caused great excitement among editors trying to fill the seasonal news slump. More unusual however was Swiss Federal President Adolf Ogi’s address of 2000 – he stood in front of a railway tunnel (watch the video here).

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[1] Kley, Andreas (2008). ‘”Und der Herrgott, Herr Bundespräsident?” Zivilreligion in den Neujahrsansprachen der schweizerischen Bundespräsidenten’. In: Kraus, Dieter et al. Schweizerisches Jahrbuch für Kirchenrecht. Bern, Switzerland, 11-56.

A list with links to the 2015/2016 speeches can be downloaded here.

Cyprus – Challenges to Presidential Authority

The Republic of Cyprus was established as a bicommunal state in 1960 after 82 years of British colonialism. The Constitution of the Republic provides for a clear separation of powers. Executive power is exercised by the president, who appoints the cabinet and is not held accountable to the parliament, which plays a secondary role within the political system. Thus, the power vested in the president’s office places the elected president at the heart of the political system: he serves as head of the state and the government at the same time and may be seen as an ‘elected absolute monarch’.

The role of the president grew even stronger after the withdrawal of the Turkish Cypriots from the governing institutions in 1964 following incidents of intercommunal violence. According to the Constitution the president is elected among the Greek Cypriots -the major community of the island- and the vice-president among the Turkish Cypriots. The only effective check and balance regarding the president’s authorities provided in the Constitution was the veto of the vice-president. After the withdrawal of the Turkish Cypriots there was no effective check and balance for the elected president. This, combined with the importance attached to the negotiations for the solution of the Cyprus problem that have been taking place since and for which the president is responsible, adds moral weight to the presidential powers.

Despite the heavily weighted power of the president in the Cypriot political system, there have been some signs of change in recent years. In particular, three specific challenges to the presidential authority are more obvious than ever in contemporary Cypriot politics.

The first, relates with party system dynamics and the increased power the political parties have successfully claimed throughout the years. Party competition dynamics refer primarily to changing political alliances. Cypriot presidents are elected in office through some alliance between parties that usually breaks down at some point during their tenure. This has important implications for the implementation of government policies. Although the government retains the privilege to enact laws that inflict financial costs, these laws are subject to parliamentary approval. Therefore, parliamentary majority is crucial for any president.

The current President, Nicos Anastasiades (elected in February 2013), has lost parliamentary majority just one year after his election and, as a result, faces difficulties in implementing his programme. As the leader of the governing right-wing party Democratic Rally (DISY), A. Neophytou, has acknowledged: ‘the government is dependent upon the (opposition) left-wing AKEL for promoting its goal for reuniting the island and on the (opposition and former governing partner) Democratic Party (DIKO) in promoting its economic programme’.

Moreover, the political parties have developed mechanisms to exercise pressure on the president that include the mobilization of public opinion and parliamentary voting. This has been most evident in recent years with the parties utilizing certain powers of the parliament they previously didn’t, thus, openly challenging the president’s authority. This could have long-term effects and ultimately change the balance of power between the two institutions (executive and legislature).

The second challenge concerns the ‘scandalology’ that has broken out in Cyprus in recent years and some unfortunate appointments made by the President in important public offices. Both phenomena had the same cumulative effect: levels of trust towards the President (and politicians in general) have declined and public life has been under severe scrutiny leaving the President little room for manoeuvre.

‘Scandalology’ followed the dramatic worsening of Cyprus economy and the ‘bail-in’ agreement in March 2013 when a number of scandals involving a number of public officials plagued the public sphere making the public opinion very suspicious towards politicians and state officials which are all seen as corrupted. Some of these scandals touched upon the president himself and his family or people directly appointed by him; a condition that increased levels of distrust towards the institution, as well as the holder. The most significant scandals in this regard were (a) the indictment of the General Attorneys’ Assistant for a serious criminal offense that led to his removal from office by the Supreme Court, and (b) the enactment by the President -through the Attorney General- of the process for removing the Governor of the Central Bank of Cyprus from her office following accusations for deliberately falsifying the terms of her contract.

Another source of grievances was a number of high profile appointments in independent authorities and public offices made by the President that have subsequently been involved either in fraud scandals (see above) or severe conflicts with members of his cabinet or even with the President himself, thus turning a boomerang for him. The new Auditor General is a case in point here, whose tenure thus far has been characterized by tension with a number of minsters, mayors and MPs.

All these must be placed in context. Expectations of public officials are significantly higher now in Cyprus than they were in the past, which means that their personal and professional careers are subject to much pressure and scrutiny from a number of institutions that were not present in the past, in particular, the mass media and the rising numbers of NGO activists, as well as the citizens. Both factors work against a ‘quiet’ service in office. Public officials are today more easily expendable: mistakes and/or bad judgments are difficult to hide and may easily result in an officials’ loss of position.

The third challenge relates with the ongoing negotiations for reaching a solution to the Cyprus problem. The Cyprus problem has been the object of continuous discussion and often tension among political parties and the public opinion for many years, especially during negotiations. 41 years after the Turkish invasion and the subsequent division of the island many people believe that the time is ripe for finding a solution. Amidst the ongoing process of negotiations between the leaders of the two communities both parties and public opinion are again forming blocs favouring or opposing a possible solution.

The President is committed to making everything possible to reach a solution; a commitment that prompted reactions against him for being too compromising to Turkish demands. Regardless of his success or failure, the net result will comprise a challenge to the further enactment of his duties. If he succeeds in finding a solution he will have to campaign for passing the solution in a referendum within a turbulent and tense environment. Moreover, if a possible referendum returns a positive vote then the challenge of guiding the people through this new state of affairs will be enormous. If he fails and regardless of his responsibilities, a large number of people that reposed their hopes in him will be hugely disappointed. Consequently, in either case, the President will face a very difficult and divisive terrain which many think that will find him in the losing end anyway. However, the challenge of reuniting the island could entail the prospect of economic development which could benefit him in the long run.

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.

References

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’. https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/umut-bozkurt/yes-we-can-mustafa-ak%C4%B1nc%C4%B1-and-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.