AKEL was founded in April 1941 by cadres of the outlawed Cyprus Communist Party [Κομμουνιστικό Κόμμα Κύπρου – KKK] and bourgeois notable figures. Cyprus was under British colonial rule and conditions at the time featured a political vacuum because of state of emergency measures imposed after a popular uprising in October 1931. The new party drew advantage from the absence of any other organised political force and through a sustained effort for setting solid organisational structures it established its influence coupled with impressive electoral successes. AKEL won municipal elections in two of the six major towns in 1943 and in five of the six major towns in 1946. Its leading role for the organisation of the working and trade union organisations in the early 1940s at a time of major social and labour changes in Cyprus further assisted the party’s broadening of influence.

AKEL and the KKK coexisted until 1946 when it was decided to dissolve KKK and keep AKEL as the only left-win party in Cyprus.

Conservative forces with the assistance of the Church of Cyprus reacted to the presence and influence of AKEL by organising the right-wing camp and taking various initiatives in connection to the handling of the Cyprus Problem. They excluded AKEL from these initiatives and confronted left-wing workers’ mobilisation and strikes. The protagonists of the anti-colonial struggle, the archbishop Makarios and General Georgios Grivas called on AKEL to keep also away from this struggle that aimed at Enosis, union of the island with Greece. This posed some public legitimacy problems to the party in the transitional period to independence. However, after testing its influence by supporting a conservative candidate (Yiannis Clerides) in alliance with right wingers against Makarios in the first presidential elections (December 1959), the party offered Makarios an unconditional support until his death in 1977. Later, it offered support to presidential candidates without participating in government. It received in return ministerial portfolios for well-known individuals enjoying its confidence.

Under the plurality system, in force from 1960 to 1976, AKEL contested only a limited number of seats in the House of Representatives despite securing up to 40% of the vote. The party has consistently sustained its image as a Marxist-Leninist party deeply committed to the communist ideals, though without launching itself into ideological debates or revolutionary positions. It entertained close relations with the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc, aligning itself to Moscow on all international issues. Locally, it claimed to be the sole representative of the working class and the left-progressive forces. In party discourse, AKEL has identified itself with the people and projected its achievements as people’s victories. Without fully extinguishing sparks of ideological fanaticism, the party has displayed moderation and conciliatory approaches on social issues and the Cyprus Problem.

The years of perestroika and collapse of the communist world coincided with the death of Ezekias Papaioannou, secretary-general of AKEL for 39 years. An internal crisis erupted in 1988, created by ideological differences, personal rivalries and persisting problems from the party’s heavy losses in the December 1985 parliamentary elections. The crisis, linked also to the election of a new secretary-general, the 42-year-old Demetris Christofias, ended in 1990, with the ousting or departure of leading figures in the party. A large-scale effort for renewal of the leadership took place, along with a redefinition of the party’s values and programme, and some organisational changes.

In 1990 the 17th party congress adopted a manifesto entitled ‘Our Concept of Socialism’, in which AKEL defined a comprehensive ideological framework. The main idea was that there could be many forms of socialism and choices should take into account not only the ‘dramatic changes taking place in the world’ but also the ‘peculiarities of Cypriot reality’. While paying tribute and affirming commitment to the ideals of Marxist-Leninist theory and the legacy of Engels, the party accepted that the road to socialism would be pursued by democratic means, with respect to pluralism and freedoms. The 18th congress (November 1995) regretted ‘the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the community of socialist countries in Eastern Europe’ as a ‘negative development for the whole of humanity’, and decided to change the party’s negative position on Cyprus accession to the EU, adopted since the early 1960s. While maintaining its views about the EU as ‘an advanced form of capitalist political and economic integration’ and as ‘the political extension of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – NATO in Europe’, the party decided to change its position and accept  Cyprus’ European course as a means to assist a just solution to the Cyprus issue.

In the same 18th congress, AKEL asserted that as a major party it could not content itself to supporting other parties to gain access to power; it declared its readiness to assume its responsibilities by taking up executive and other offices.

In implementation of the above, the party’s Secretary General Demetris Christofias was elected Chairman of the House of Representatives with the support of the Democratic Party – DIKO, in June 2001. In return, AKEL supported and elected DIKO’s chairman Tassos Papadopoulos to the Presidency of the Republic, in February 2008. It participated in the government with five ministers until summer 2007, when it decided to support Christofias as a candidate to the Republic’s supreme office. In February 2008, the Secretary General of AKEL became the first Communist President of the Republic of Cyprus.

The position adopted by AKEL against the United Nations Plan for the settlement of the Cyprus Problem, in the referendum of April 2004, the handling of the economic crisis from 2010 to 2012 and the explosion of weapons seized from a cargo in July 2011 were among the main causes of the significant loss of influence of the party. AKEL’s vote share in 2016 was 25.7% against 34.1% (the party’s highest, 2001), albeit