The House of Representatives adopted a new legislation in 1979-81 that introduced a system of reinforced proportionality and made the right to vote mandatory. Reinforced proportionality set high thresholds for entry into the parliament, namely 8% plus one seat or 10%. These thresholds made it extremely difficult or rather impossible for new parties to elect their candidates. This was confirmed in practice since no new party won a seat, until 1996, when simple proportionality with a threshold of 1/56 (equal to 1.79%) was voted. The threshold corresponds to the votes needed to win one of the 56 seats in parliament.

The introduction of a new electoral system was the only way out for the parties because the death of Makarios left them with no “regulating” authority of party relations. After his death, it became clear that parties could very hardly find any common ground for collaboration and forming alliances, which was necessary under the plurality system. In 1980, there were significant disagreements between the former DIKO, AKEL and EDEK partners and a severe intra-party crisis and splits in DIKO. If parties continued with a plurality system they would face unpredictable outcome in elections. Without cooperation and alliances, a party could occupy all seats.

The mandatory vote provided that a voter that fails to go to the polls unjustifiably could face sanctions in court. This did not lead to reducing abstention to zero, since it was possible for someone to present proofs that his abstention was justified. The mandatory vote led to a drastic lowering of abstention rates. Voters that had no serious excuse to abstain went regularly to the polls and exercised their right to vote. The rate was down to about 4% in 1981 and gradually inceased to 10% in 2001.

The contest

The main feature of the 1981 election was the participation, for the first time, of seven parties, of which three were newcomers, founded only a few months prior to the election. The New Democratic Front – NEDIPA and the Union of the Center – EK were splitters from DIKO.

In the meantime, politics in this period was quite different from both the pre-invasion period and from the election of 1976.

The more important changes were the following:

  • Makarios had passed away and his unifying or other influence could no longer determine the course of developments and the election The picture of the pro-Makarios political forces left little room for flattering comments. On the contrary, the camp, for many reasons, was badly fragmented, while everyone claimed the title of Makarios’ heir and of his legacy, each party for itself.
  • In addition to the bad image of the former allies, it was practically impossible for a plethora of parties to survive simply by claiming support in the name of Makarios. Without articulate political proposals and without differentiating itslef from the others, a party could have no future.
  • The short life of the new parties, as well as the weak grounds on which they placed their ambitions, did not leave much room for success. Society was no longer the same as during previous contests, where the personality of the leader or instructions and guidance from above were able to attract a significant part of the electorate. Moreover, in such a short time, it was difficult or impossible to shape a party’s image, to form a clear ideological and political face, to differentiate itself from the existing ones and to deploy such an effort as it was needed in order to convince the voter to give his preference to the new scheme. At this point, we note the inability of the leaders to receive and understand a simple message, that a leader’s personality was no longer enough for a party to win seats in an
  • The pre-existing parties involved in the confrontation had already their well organised party machinery, experienced and disciplined party bodies. Based on these foundations, they were able to effectively cope with the newly established mechanisms of PAME, NEDIPA and the Union of the Center and neutralize their efforts to lay down solid foundations among the masses.
  • The electoral system was the last, but not least important factor that determined the outcome. The reinforced proportional system gave better chances for success than the former plurality system. However, significant peculiarities neutralized proportionality: The small number of seats, the division of Cyprus into six constituencies and the setting of the threshold for participation in the second distribution at 10% made it impossible for any party to enter the To succeed it needed to secure more than 25,000 votes (in an electorate of 300,000). Winning a seat in the big constituency of Nicosia required 8.33% or about 8,800 votes.

The election of May 1981 offered for the first time the opportunity to draw the electoral map of Cyprus, with the actual or real distribution of influence of each party. This became possible because the factors that could alter or pre-determine the outcome were no more present, and the parties were forced to fight autonomously and record the size of their influence on the electorate. Also, for the first time, the composition of the House reflected the strength and the appeal of each party among the electorate.

The results

With 32.8%, AKEL emerged as the strongest political force, with about one point ahead of DISY. It won 12 seats. DIKO, which, thanks to the manipulation of the electoral system, had 21 out of 35 seats or 60% in the previous House, was limited to 19.5% of votes and eight seats, while EDEK achieved its marginal entry into the House with 8.2% and three seats. The new formations, NEDIPA, EK and PAME, were limited to less than 3% and excluded from the House.