Cyprus is a comparatively young democracy with just 58 years of independent life. In this period both political and state institutions have struggled to find their place and a balance between them due to the political unrest before 1974 that culminated in the Greek-junta-led coup and the Turkish invasion that followed. Since then, the Republic of Cyprus (RoC), although operating without the Turkish Cypriots, it has developed a rather resilient cluster of state and political institutions that seemed to work relatively efficiently.
However, the economic crisis and the changes affected after the 2013 bail-in revealed a number of shortcomings in their operation and the relations between them. These limitations and inefficiencies touch upon several aspects of their functioning; for example, issues of institutional culture, practices of clientelism that run through them, insufficient structures to cope with change and new challenges, relations between them, etc. All these have created several nests of tension between them. Moreover, the overall context within which politics take place in Cyprus in recent years has made it extremely difficult for institutional politics to continue performing as they did, i.e., unquestioned by the people and the media.
People are very suspicious of politicians and political institutions in particular. Levels of trust in political parties, the government, the president and the parliament to name but a few are constantly very low. Other independent institutions such as the Attorney General, the Governor of the Central Bank and the General Auditor were until recently untouched by the criticism that swept the entire political system. These institutions were seen as bedrocks against inefficient, unreliable and often corrupt politicians and government officials, something like an oasis in a desert of inefficiencies, bad practices and corruption.
However, this is changing. All the above-mentioned independent institutions are now caught in the wider crisis of legitimation. Independent institutions and more precisely the persons holding the offices, are now viewed as part of a wider political game with their own personal agendas, much like the politicians. To be fair, this perception is not unrelated to the fact that some of these independent officials clashed with other entrenched interests and institutions (e.g., part of the media, the civil service, the President of the Republic himself, etc.). This has made them a target for their practices from the media, politicians and government officials. It has also revealed that they could also have an agenda of their own since the control they exercise is sometimes seen as selective.
Despite the fact that the motives behind the attacks against independent institutions might not be entirely noble in nature they do point to an existing problem: most of these institutions operate in an environment almost free of any type of control. This state of affairs is largely due to the fact that independent institutions derive their authority directly from the constitution which does not provide for effective mechanisms of accountability and control. Once they are appointed there are no effective checks and balances to their authority.
However, there are public voices now calling for some degree of control and accountability for independent institutions. These voices became louder in recent months as Cypriot society witnessed a number of conflicts between the various institutions and on various grounds revealing the lack of checks and balances between them. This has created a sense of a generalized institutional crisis. For some analysts this institutional crisis is the outcome of the personal characteristics of the people holding the offices who vie for personal attention and a political career. However, a deeper look reveals structural inefficiencies, institutional shortcomings and a lack of a proper institutional culture of self and also mutual control. Whatever the reasons though, recent polls indicate that society has lost faith in the workings of our entire institutional detting which seems unable to respond the multifaceted challenges facing Cyprus in the aftermath of the economic crisis and the need to find a solution to the persisting Cyprus problem. The sense of a generalized crisis is also the result of a chronic impunity of those who brought the country on the verge of economic destruction.
At the same time Cyprus faces an international outcry because of its questionable practice of providing Cypriot (and therefore EU) citizenship to wealthy people from countries outside the EU. This ‘citizenship industry’ not only brings Cyprus at the knife’s edge of foreign auditing authorities and international institutions but it is also seen by many Cypriots as a way for the political and economic elite to profit whereas the majority of the people faces a harsh time in their personal lives.
All the above bring to the fore important issues of institutional and also political nature the most important of which is the need to develop an efficient system of checks and balances for all institutions and between institutions which is now lacking; this will allow them to work efficiently and restore the lost confidence of society in them.