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!