The first European elections, 13 June 2004

Around six weeks after May 1, 2004, the day of the enlargement of the European Union with ten new members, the first European elections were held in Cyprus, for the six members that would represent Cyprus in the European Parliament. The poll took place on 13 June 2004, in a peculiar atmosphere, due to the impact the recently rejected referendum had on political parties and politics in general. The referendum on the UN Plan for a settlement of the Cyprus Problem, named “The Annan Plan”, was held on 24 April 2004, one week before the accession to the European Union. European election results were marked by the high rate of abstention and the considerable blow to the usually high vote share recorded in parliamentary elections for big parties.

Cyprus first applied for an Association Agreement with the EEC in 1972, mainly for economic reasons, to benefit from the European customs union. Later, in 1990, the application for membership was linked more or almost exclusively to political criteria, and, above all, the assumption that the European institutional framework would ensure advantages to the Greek Cypriots in their pursuit of a solution to the Cyprus Problem. Europe would not only serve as a security framework, but also a springboard for securing rights that were denied because of the occupation of part of the island by the Turkish army.

The climate that developed in the period before and immediately after the referendum on the Annan Plan raised serious doubts about the expectations that had been cultivated regarding the accession to the European Union. For a large part of the electorate, the position taken by the European Union in favour of the Plan was a negative, even hostile act. A serious problem was created by the tensions and often verbal confrontations and division within the Greek Cypriot community. They found exression and affected not only the political leadership and the parties, but also the society as a whole, causing rifts even at the family level.

At the level of the parties, the position that was adopted by the leadership of the Democratic Rally – DISY led to a split, departure or expulsion of cadres and officials of the party. The latter formed the Movement For Europe, which contested the elections with its own candidates. Problems for DISY seemed more serious than those faced by other parties, because the pro-Annan position of the leadership was clearly in conflict with the will of the vast majority of its voters.

In the case of AKEL, there were some indications of divergence at various levels. Its leadership adopted a negative attitude towards the Plan, contrary not only to the party’s long-standing positions in favour of a solution to the Cyprus Problem, but also to its own overall assessment of the Annan Plan. The General Secretary of AKEL had identified more positive than negative elements in it, underlining that some of its negative provisions could be effectively addressed following Cyprus’ accession into the European Union.

The Democratic Party – DIKO, of President Tassos Papadopoulos, who had called the Greek Cypriots to polling a resounding “No” to the Plan, attempted to capitalise on the “success” of the overwhelming rejection of the Plan. DIKO projected itself as a leading political force and made efforts to unite under its umbrella the forces that opposed the Annan plan, albeit without success.

The election campaign was short in duration and appeared as a continuation of the referendum campaign. The political debate focused very little on the substance of the European elections, on the role of the European Parliament and on the role that the Cypriot MEPs would be called upon to fulfill there.

What dominated DISY‘s campaign was its leadership’s confrontation with expelled or departed cadres and the repetition of accusations related to their stance in the referendum. DIKO highlighted the decisive role of President Tassos Papadopoulos and of the party itself in the outcome of the vote in the referendum.

The results of the first European elections featured some big surprises; The abstention rate was very high, AKEL’s influence declined sharply and surprisingly DISY succeeded in finishing on top despite significant losses. More important were the high share secured by the party For Europe and EDEK in contrast to the stagnating vote-share of DIKO and forces allied with it; we also note the failure of the Environmentalists and New Horizons. Abstention (27.5%) seems to have had a greater impact on specific political forces, thus reversing the expected ranking of the parties. While the obvious problems concerned DISY, which underwent a split, it was AKEL that suffered the biggest losses. It lost a significant part of its share in the 2001 parliamentary election, and dropped from 34.7% to 27.9%, which was the largest decline the party had ever suffered.

The success of the Democratic Rally was a surprise, as, despite divisions and the split at the level of leadership and executives and the divergence in the choices of the leadership and the grassroots in the referendum, the party managed to limit its losses to less than six points and emerge as the first political force, with 28.2%.

EDEK’s percentage (10.8%) and the increase by four percentage points compared to 2001 were recorded at a time when, for various reasons, the party was going through a crisis with its influence apparently in decline. The peculiarities of the European elections and the need to secure a high share in order to ensure occupying a seat seemed to have played a role in shaping the dynamics of the contest and favored a vote for EDEK.

The formation For Europe, with the participation of cadres who disagreed with or were expelled from the Democratic Rally, secured the largest ever percentage recorded by a new political force. With a percentage equal to EDEK, 10.8% and 37 more votes, it secured the sixth seat. DISY and AKEL gained two seats and DIKO one.

DIKO failed to capitalize on the stance it took in the referendum and from its alliance with ADIK and other forces that had split from the party in the past. It finally secured only 17.1%, a vote share equal to the sum of its vote in 2001 together with ADIK, albeit in a poll with a clearly much higher abstention rate.

In 2001 the New Horizons, the Environmentalists Movement and the coalition of the United Democrats with other forces had a very low vote share, and harbored little hope of success. In the end, the first two parties were reduced to almost half the share they had in 2001 (1.65% and 0.9% respectively), while the United Democrats coalition secured 2.0%.

The parties’ influence, calculated on the actual figures and the share of each political force, differ significantly if one takes into account the high rate of abstention and makes comparisons based on the electorate or even the rate of valid ballots in general elections. If influence is measured in votes instead of percentages, the figures change dramatically. A simple example: In 2001, AKEL received 142,647 votes out of a total of 467,543 voters, while in the European elections, with an increased number of overall voters – up by 16,000 – the party’s votes decreased by approximately 50,000, down to 93,212. That is, the party received less than two-thirds of the votes it had received in 2001.

The picture is similar when the same method is applied to the other parties.