The 2009 election for Cyprus’ representatives to the European Parliament (EP) were conducted in a substantially different climate than the first such vote in Cyprus, which took place only weeks after the Republic joined the European Union, on 1st May 2004. A change in government, with the election in February 2008 of communist Demetris Christofias seemed to help in softening tensions with Brussels and the emergence of cautious optimism for an end to the division of Cyprus.

Parties splits and divisions among Greek Cypriots, which, in 2004, led voters to express their anger by punishing the left wing AKEL and the right-wing DISY for their choices in the referendum, still persisted in 2009, albeit in softer terms.

In connection to the Cyprus Problem, the presence of two left-wing leaders in power, of Turkish Cypriot Mehmet Ali Talat, since 2005, and Greek Cypriot Demetris Christofias raised hopes for a break-through and good prospects for putting an end to the island’s division. However, by the time of the European elections, negotiations between the two leaders appeared not to achieve progress as first expected.

The image of the EU among Greek Cypriots had improved, based on a feeling of security, and enhanced after Cyprus joined the euro area, in January 2008.

Some 526,000 voters were called to the polls. Turkish Cypriots were also offered the right to participate but only a few hundreds were registered on the electoral roll.

The campaign: Limited effort and investment

The stakes of the election, i.e., the six Cyprus seats in the EP and the expected share of the vote for each party, determined the main features of the campaign and limited its duration, parties’ efforts and the money invested in it. Since the allocation of seats to parties and even to specific candidates was mostly predictable under the proportional system, parties avoided long and intensive campaign, while limiting their spending in advetising. This was a reason for low mobilisation of voters, encouraged also by the authorities’ decision not to punish abstention, as provided by law, and the fact that elections were expected during a long weekend, when people rush to the beach. The short duration of the campaign, limited to less than two months, with paid advertising on radio and television being broadcast over 20 days only, didn’t help in achieving mobilisation of the voters.

Along with AKEL, DISY, DIKO, EDEK and the Ecologists, EVROKO – European Party [Ευρωπαϊκό Κόμμα), a splitter from DISY, which won three seats in the 2006 parliamentary elections and neo-nazi ELAM – Εθνικό Λαϊκό Κόμμα, affiliated to the Greek Golden Dawn party contested the election. A new small formation, the Movement for Cyprus Reunited – Κόμμα Επανένωσης Κύπρου, presented its ticket of candidates.

The Cyprus Problem, the division of the island, and the respective positions of the parties occupied a large part of the debate and dominated over European issues. The perceived failure of the European Union to respond to expectations that accession would contribute to a positive for the Greek Cypriots outcome in efforts to end the island’s division. The centrist DIKO and the far right European Party (Ευρωπαϊκό Κόμμα – EVROKO) chose the Cyprus Problem as the cornerstone of their electoral programme and called on voters to make known, through their vote, to Brussels. their disagreement with President Christofias, “who made unacceptable concessions” in the negotiations with the Turkish Cypriot side. EUROKO’s position for “a European solution”, was vaguely defined as one based on European principles.. In addition to the Cyprus Problem, DIKO also projected a generic slogan asking more for the family, development, the youth and those on low income. The Social Democrat EDEK, who fell short by 37 votes to occupy a seat in 2004, stressed the need to secure their place in the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, thus “strengthening Cyprus in the Union”.3 Their strategic goal was therefore identified in their slogan’

The Ecologists-environmentalists put forward issues related to the environment, as well as the need to apply European standards and principles in a solution to the Cyprus Problem.

The opposition party, DISY, highlighted the benefits of forming strategic alliances, helped by its relations with the European Peoples Party (EPP); it made a joint policy statement with the EPP on issues perceived to be of significance for Europe, including further development of the free market and competition, promoting welfare, action over climate change and an enhanced role for the Union on the international scene. The party’s narrow media campaign promoted the idea of a strong Europe with the contribution of Cyprus. In the public debate it challenged AKEL as being Europhobic and undermining the role Cyprus could play in the Union. It also challenged the partners in power for their dissenting positions on critical issues.

The main axis of AKEL’s campaign was the need to put forward claims and demands as a way to safeguard workers’ and Cyprus’ rights. It also challenged liberal economic policies as causes of the present crisis, and attacked DISY as the force representing these ideas. The party was the only political force that crafted a complete electoral programme on all the basic issues, such as its views on the European Union, labour and social policies, the environment and the Cyprus Issue.

An important issue of contention was that of the participation of Cyprus in the Partnership for Peace. This prompted a vote in the House of Representatives, where all parties except AKEL and the Ecologists voted in favour of Cyprus applying for membership of this organisation. AKEL considered it a NATO instrument of aggression, and President Christofias plainly excluded any prospect of filing a membership application.

Differences in focus and perspectives turned the public debate into monologues in the media. There was extensive coverage and reports on parties’ activities and positions , while current affairs television programmes were adjusted to respond to the needs of the campaign, with debates, interviews, analyses of opinion poll results and other.

The results

The main characteristics of the results are a sharp increase of the abstention rate compared to 2004 and the very high combined share of DISY and AKEL. The abstention rate jumped to over 40%, marking an increase of 50% compared to 2004 and 300% compared to the presidential election (10.2%), which took place 16 months earlier. The share of the two big parties increased by more than ten points since 2004, with their combined vote reaching 70.55% in a highly polarised environment, with each at around 35% (DISY 35.65%, AKEL 34.90%). This is the highest ever combined vote the two parties have obtained in either parliamentary or European elections, albeit calculated on a significantly lower participation level. In terms of votes, the two parties lost over 20000 each compared to the parliamentary elections of 2006; when compared to the respective election of 2004, the two parties’ vote increased by 15000 and 13000 voices respectively. Despite its poor performance in opinion polls, DIKO’s share (12.28%) was another surprise, because this was its lowest ever in all elections. EDEK, the other partner in Christofias’ government, did fairly well with 9.85 percent, one point below its 2004 performance, while the newcomers EUROKO secured 4.12% and the ecologists 1.5%, almost double their 2004 figure.

DISY and AKEL secured two seats each at the European Parliament and DIKO and EDEK one seat each.

The 2009 results appear relatively consistent with those of the previous European election of 2004 and the 2006 parliamentary elections, in terms of the order of parties, but not in terms of their relative strength or the main features of the election. The conjuncture in 2004 was heavily influenced by ugly divisions related to the referendum; in 2009, DISY seemed to enjoy internal unity, compared to the splits and dissensions that led to a low vote share (28.23%) in 2004. AKEL obviously has benefited from the exercise of power, which enabled it to overcome grievances of its supporters, of both those in favour and those against the UN Plan that in 2004 brought its share down to 27.89%. Clearly, DIKO, despite being in government, it suffered significant loss of influence caused by internal divisions, but, also, because it failed to capitalise on its stance in the 2004 referendum.