Category Archives: Cyprus

Cyprus – Continuity and change after the 2018 presidential election

The 2018 presidential election in the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) saw the re-election of incumbent president, Nicos Anastasiades, although in more difficult conditions than five years previously. In 2013, he was elected relatively easily, riding the wave of anti-government feeling at a time of worsening economic conditions and intense critique of the former leftist government. In 2018, the situation was different in many respects. This included the fact that he had lost the backing of his former centrist ally (DIKO) and was supported only by his (rightist) party DISY and because of the standard negative effects of incumbency, particularly after some harsh economic decisions, notably the first ever ‘bail-in’ in the EU, which led to increased economic uncertainty and distress among the population.

However, and despite the above, in last Sunday’s election President Anastasiades won 56% of the vote against 44% for Stavros Malas. This was a very similar result to the 2013 election when the same contesters polled 57.48% and 42.52% respectively. For many people, the result made it seem as if the previous 5 years had not taken place. In analysing the results and identifying the reasons and the consequences, this post must be read as a follow up from my previous post in which I analysed the context within which these presidential elections took place.

The issue in the first round was centered on who would face Anastasiades in the second round and whether there would be any room for cooperation between that candidate and the candidates and parties who failed to qualify. In the end, Malas and AKEL polled 30.24%, which was a lot more than anticipated. Therefore, Malas and AKEL were among the definite winners of the first round. The first round had another winner though: the extreme right candidate Christos Christou, the leader of the extreme neo-Nazi party ELAM, who polled 5.65% (up from the 3.7% that his party scored in the 2016 parliamentary elections).

Anastasiades, though coming first, scored 35.51%, which was much lower than expected. He can, therefore, be ranked among the losers of the first round. However, the definite loser of the first round was Nikolas Papadopoulos, who campaigned mostly on the Cyprus problem and who polled 25.74% (approximately 6% down from the total sum of the aggregate vote of the four parties that supported him). The latter seemed to be an indirect indication that the majority of the voters still support the bizonal bicommunal federation as the most acceptable solution to the Cyprus problem.

Abstention reached 28.12%, almost 10% up from 2013, showing that it is a structural feature of Cypriot electoral behaviour, while at the same time it has not reached its ceiling. Exit polls revealed that abstention was much higher among younger cohorts.

The second round revealed an entirely different setting. There, Anastasiades cruised to victory by a clear margin. Although abstention was a little lower than the first round (26.03%), it was still high by Cyprus’ usual standards. More worryingly, the president-elect was actually voted in by a minority of the electorate. Abstention excluded, Anastasiades’ polled 39.1% of the electorate compared to his 43.4% in 2013 and Christofias’ 44.6% in 2008; these figures do not include those who did not register to the electoral lists, or approximately 30,000 people.

Anastasiades’ election can be explained by a variety of factors. The include, first, the fragmentation of the opposition. They won a majority in the first round, totalling approximately 65%. However, its different constituent parts could not strike an agreement for the second round. This placed Anastasiades in an advantageous position allowing him to maneuver effectively. All the parties and candidates who failed to qualify for the second round decided to support neither of the remaining candidates, which was arguably more damaging to Malas.

Second, Anastasiades’ narrative focused on the need to continue a cautious policy with regard to the economy but a decisive attitude with regard to the Cyprus problem; this combination seemed to appeal to voters more than the narratives of his major opponents, Papadopoulos and Malas. Papadopoulos’ new strategy on the Cyprus problem was ambiguous and unclear, thus causing anxiety and uncertainty, whereas Malas’ association with AKEL reminded them of Christofias’ presidency which was judged as bad, particularly in the economy. Both candidates failed to produce and present a convincing, coherent and applicable programme to the voters.

A third reason lies with Anastasiades U-turn in regard to the Cyprus problem in the last few months. The president adopted a more hard-line position, projecting himself as the only candidate who could assertively defend Greek Cypriots’ rights at the negotiation table. This U-turn enabled him to reach out to the more nationalist voters of his own party (DISY) who had considered him too soft towards the Turkish Cypriots and also of other center right and right-wing parties. The nationalist portion of the electorate in Cyprus remains high and this U-turn proved decisive.

The elections revealed interesting insights with regard to Cyprus’ political and party system, indicating mixed signs of change and continuity. Signs of change have been evident for some time now. Partisan attachments are fading away with younger generations not feeling bound by their families’ choices. Cyprus has been experiencing a process of dealignment for a few years now, but without any realignment except in the case of the extreme right ELAM. Interestingly, their party leader achieved a bigger percentage in the presidential elections (5.7%) than his party did a year and a half back in the parliamentary elections of 2016 (3.7%), which is something that he could potentially capitalise on in the near future. However, increased abstention, protest voting and citizens’ dissatisfaction with the overall workings of the political system indicate the existence of a political vacuum in which new organizations, movements and/or parties could enter.

Another interesting new feature of this election which might be revealing for the future was the inability and unwillingness of political parties to reach agreements and make alliances with each other. This was the first time in Cyprus’ presidential election history that candidates and parties did not seek an agreement between the first and the second round. This was justified by their wish not to water down their positions. This was well-received by part of the media and their supporters, but it could also be a sign of their inability to reach a consensus. Moreover, the intense and polarized confrontation between most of the parties, as well as their divergent positions on several dimensions of party competition shows that most opportunities for cooperation have been severely damaged, which in turn points to the difficulties ahead for the president.

The parties that populate the space between the leftist AKEL and rightist DISY have declared their intention to further enhance their cooperation beyond the mere joint support of a common presidential candidate. Their intention is to create a powerful ‘third pole’ in the party system that will pursue power and policies autonomously. Although this is a difficult task to achieve, given their different political and personal agendas and their internal problems, if they do succeed it could change the nature and format of party politics in Cyprus given the fragmentation of the centrist political space hitherto. At the same time, it will place significant pressure on the new president since he will face harsh opposition from two discrete blocs (left and center).

Signs of continuity are also evident particularly with regard to the effects of bipolarism (left and right). The mainstream parties of both left and right, AKEL and DISY, continue to dominate their respective political spheres and have proven their endurance despite their problems. In this regard, the ‘old’ party system has once again proven powerful enough to absorb the shocks and survive.

What is the future for the president elect? It has been pointed out by many commentators that the president will immediately face numerous challenges and will not benefit from any honeymoon period. These challenges include, inter alia, the possible resumption of the negotiations over the Cyprus problem, difficult decisions in the economy (e.g., privatizations, seizure of properties by the banks and many more), the developments with regard to Cyprus’ natural gas deposits, etc. All these decisions must be made in the context of a polarised and hostile environment, particularly in parliament where president Anastasiades does not enjoy a majority anymore. Although Cyprus is a presidential democracy, the president nevertheless has to achieve consensus or at least a majority in many bills. Both AKEL and the parties of the so-called middle space have declared their intention to oppose the president on all fronts. Achieving consensus will be increasingly difficult from now on.

Overall, President Anastasiades has to walk a very thin line. He was voted in with 21,000 votes less than in 2013. More importantly, 335,000 voters did not vote for him (143,401 who abstained, 12,173 blank votes, 10,778 spoilt ballots, and 169,243 citizens who voted for Malas) compared to the 215,281 who did vote for him. To ignore this arithmetic would be a huge mistake, particularly on high salience issues such as the Cyprus problem and the economy. Moreover, he can no longer blame the previous government.

Cyprus – The 2018 presidential election: A war of all against all

In less than two weeks’ time, the people of the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) are going to the polls for the 12th time in Cyprus’ presidential electoral history to elect the 8th president of the Republic (the first elections were held in 1960 when Cyprus gained its independence from Britain). As already mentioned in a previous post, five major candidates will contest the elections with a clear favorite to win: the current right-wing president Nicos Anastasiades. In this short post, I will try to summarize the most basic things that one has to bear in mind with regard to the forthcoming presidential elections in Cyprus.

1. The first round of the elections is scheduled for 28 January 2018 and if a second round is needed (almost certainly), this will take place on 4 February.

2. The President of Cyprus (Greek Cypriot by constitutional provision) is the highest authority in the country with very strong powers in his/her possession, unmatched in any other country of the EU. The president is both head of state and government. The only check on the institution’s power was the Turkish Cypriot vice-president as was envisaged in the London-Zurich agreements that established the Republic of Cyprus (1959-1960). However, the withdrawal of Turkish Cypriots from all state and government institutions in 1964 following inter-communal clashes and the subsequent Turkish invasion in 1974 mean that the president has concentrated all powers in the office.

3. Presidential elections are held every five years under a majoritarian two-round system, i.e., a successful candidate needs to receive a majority of the votes to be elected. With some exceptions, the rule in Cyprus is that a second round is needed to determine the president.

4. Given the majoritarian system and the absence of a dominant party that has more than 50% support on its own, all political parties and candidates try to strike bargains between them, particularly after the first round has ended.

5. In the past, presidents from all ideological currents have governed, including the self-declared communist AKEL (2008-2013), rendering the elections a matter more of political efficiency than ideology. Cyprus’ EU membership also limits the space for competition based on ideology and clearly distinct between policies and elevates issues of transparency and corruption on the agenda.

6. All types of elections in recent years have been held under conditions of extreme popular discontent towards political actors and very low levels of trust in them. This election is no different, particularly following the 2013 bail-in that saw a significant haircut in bank deposits of many Cypriots and the collapse of the powerful banking system of the country.

7. Apart the current president who is running for re-election (supported by his own party, the right-wing DISY), the other four major candidates are: N. Papadopoulos, president of DIKO and who is supported by an alliance of four parties (center-right DIKO, center-left EDEK, Solidarity Movement and the Greens); S. Malas, an independent who is supported by the left-wing AKEL; G. Lillikas, president of the Citizens’ Alliance; and C. Christou, president of the extreme right National Popular Front-ELAM.

8. The electoral strength of the major parties is as follows: the right-wing Democratic Rally (DISY) 30.69%; the left-wing Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL) 25.67%; the center-right Democratic Party (DIKO) 14.49%; the social democrats EDEK, 6.18%; the right-wing, nationalist Solidarity Movement, 5.24%; Green Party, 4.82%; Citizens Alliance, 6.01%; and the extreme-right ELAM, 3.71%. Based on these figures alone and bearing in mind which candidates the parties support, it is likely that that N. Anastasiades and N. Papadopoulos are the favorites to progress to the second round. However, one plus one does not always equal two in politics.

9. It was thought that 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 would dominate the campaign. However, the polls indicate that most people are primarily concerned with the economy, with the Cyprus problem coming second. Issues of corruption are also significant in these elections.

10. Programmatic discourse has been de-emphasised during the campaign. This has been complimented by a move towards the personalization of politics and electoral campaigns; this trend has been under way in Cyprus generally in recent times and is not confined to this electoral campaign. Most polls indicate that the personality of the candidate and not party affiliation will play the most crucial role in the voter’s final decision. In turn, this trend enhances the role of the leader at the expense of the party organization. Additionally, the majority of the polls also reveal voter choice is based on whom they perceive as the least bad among the candidates and not the best option.

11. Abstention is expected to reach the highest ever level in any presidential election. In the last presidential elections abstention rose to almost 20% in the second round (17% in the first) and is now expected to climb further. Moreover, approximately 30,000 of the eligible 40,000 voters did not register until the deadline of 18 December 2017; the vast majority of them being persons under the age of 22, which shows an aversion of young people to politics and adds to the abstention rate.

12. The campaign thus far, and with no indication of change going forward, has been one of a Hobbesian ‘war of all against all’. This is particularly true for the three main candidates, Anastasiades, Papadopoulos and Malas. Accusations are exchanged constantly and on a daily basis between them, as well as between their supporting parties on all issues. For example, Lillikas indirectly accused Papadopoulos of offering him money and public office to withdraw his candidacy and support him. On another occasion, all candidates demanded that the president replace his minister of interior because of his partisan behaviour and partiality while being responsible for the organization of the elections. This polarization between the candidates, in turn, questions their ability to form alliances at the second round and arguably places the strongest candidate (N. Anastasiades) in an advantageous position since the bridges between Papadopoulos and Malas and the parties supporting them seem broken.

13. President Anastasiades has focused on three issues that are believed to be his strongest assets: his strong personality and authority; the fact that he improved the economy, successfully guiding the country’s exit from the memorandum and the crisis; and his ability to strike new and also enhance old international cooperation agreements with neighboring countries. Papadopoulos has highlighted his new agenda/strategy for disengaging from former presidents’ concessions with regard to the Cyprus problem; his reliability with regard to the economy; and his ability to act as a unifying figure between several parties. Malas has campaigned on the freshness that his candidacy brings to political life, and that has no links to the corrupt political and party system. He has also tried to stress the independent status of his candidacy vis-à-vis claims that he is nothing more than AKEL’s puppet.

14. If we believe the polls, President Anastasiades is favorite not only to win through to the second round but also to win at the second round, regardless of who stands against him. The polls suggest that N. Papadopoulos stands a better chances than S. Malas in a possible second round with N. Anastasiades. However, if Anastasiades were not to win, it would not be the first time in Cyprus that the polls got it wrong.

15. Given the belief that N. Anastasiades will win the election, the most significant issue in this election campaign is who will win through to the second round with Anastasiades. This raises the stakes for AKEL as a party and N. Papadopoulos as a person. Both AKEL and Papadopoulos face significant blame-gaming if they fail to win through.

16. The day after the election matters primarily with regard to the new president’s stance on the Cyprus problem and less on his economic policies. The latter point connects the presidential elections in the RoC with the ‘parliamentary’ elections held just a few days apart in the northern, occupied part of Cyprus; these elections took place a few days earlier (7 January 2018). While the elections did not concern the new leader of the community, they were crucial with regard to the parties’ results and their positions both regarding the Cyprus problem and relations with Turkey. A first reading of the results reveals tricky times ahead, since the political parties of the right that are more sceptical and more hardline regarding the Cyprus problem and more receptive of Turkey’s wishes and demands won a majority amidst increased abstention.

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.

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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.