Cyprus has lived in freedom only since 1960, following long centuries of foreign domination. The island’s geopolitical value has turned it into a target of regional and remote powers that succeeded one another as its masters.
Some glimpses of political life emerged at the beginning of the British rule (1878-1960). However, the design of institutions and conditions of limited freedom under foreign rule affected negatively political development.
Cyprus was declared an independent republic in August 1960, following a four-year anti-colonial army struggle and the London and Zurich agreements (February 1959).
On 13 December 1959, the first presidential elections took place, and Cypriots elected their first parliament of the Republic on 31 July 1960 and the Communal Chambers one week later. Inter-communal strife that erupted in Christmas 1963 caused the collapse of the bi-communal state and led to an exclusively Greek Cypriot control over power. Presidential elections were suspended until 1968, while a new parliament was elected in July 1970.
During the above period, there was only one organized political force, the communist party AKEL (Progressive Party of the Working People), founded in 1941. In May 1968, the Democratic National Party (DEK) was formed, followed in early 1969 by four new parties, the United Nationalistic Party (Eniaion), the United Democratic Union of the Center (EDEK), the Progressive Front and the Progressive Party. With the exception of DEK, which stood in opposition to Makarios, all other parties declared themselves supporters of the Archbishop and President of the Republic.
Following the upheaval caused by the Greek Junta coup and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in summer 1974, new political forces emerged; the centre Democratic Front (DIPA, renamed Democratic Party, DIKO) and the right wing Democratic Rally (DISY) were founded in 1976. DIKO, DISY, AKEL and EDEK have since then occupied the front stage of party politics. A number of minor parties appeared after 1980, few of them managed to survive their initial electoral failure.
The introduction of a single proportional electoral system, in June 1995, favored the formation of new parties. The threshold was set at 1.79% of valid votes, which made it for a political force to enter the parliament. The Movement of Ecologists – Environmentalists that was formed in early 1996 is the only one that has survived over the years, represented also in parliament since 2001. Other formations were either transformed into a different party, merged with others or, simply, disappeared.
Intra-party frictions and disagreements during the campaign for and after the referendum on the Annan Plan for the settlement of the Cyprus Problem in April 2004 caused splits, and expulsions of parties officials. New parties and movements that emerged during that period have failed to establish themselves in politics and survive.
Three new formations managed to enter the parliament following the May 2016 elections, leading to a House of Representatives of eight parties. The weakening of the ties between citizens and traditional parties, and the reaction of many voters to a threshold increase from 1.79% to 3.6% by the big parties were the likely reasons to the shift of the vote to small parties.
Abstention from politics and elections is on the increase since 2006, while at the same time the big majority of young citizens gaining the right to vote are failing to register on the electoral roll. Citizens’ alienation of politics is a negative factor that further deteriorates the quality of party politics of Greek Cypriots.
The Turkish Cypriot community
The 1960 Constitution separates the electoral body and processes for the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities. The Turkish Cypriot community elected (unopposed) the Vice President of the Republic, in December 1959, and in July / August 1960 the Turkish members of the House of Representatives and the Turkish Communal Chamber.
The crisis of Christmas 1963 and the collapse of bi-communality, followed by segregation of the population, led the Turkish Cypriots to set up their own administrative structures. These were formalised in some respect with the declaration of an “Autonomous Provisional Administration”, on 30 December 1967. When the (Greek-Cypriot-held) government of the Republic organised elections, Turkish Cypriots proceeded with their own, avoiding though to have a contest.
In 1970, a left wing party emerged, the Republican Turkish Party (CTP), in opposition to the ruling leadership of the community.
Following the invasion of the Turkish Army and the occupation of part of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus, in the summer of 1974, there was a complete territorial separation of the population.
Turkish Cypriots declared the “Turkish Federated State of Cyprus – TFSC”, in February 1975, succeeded by the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus – TRNC” on 15 November1983. They failed to gain international recognition, and, to this day, the TRNC is recognised only by Turkey.
The most important Turkish Cypriot parties are the left wing Republican Turkish Party – CTP, founded in 1970, the right wing conservative National Unity Party – UBP, founded in 1975 by Rauf Denktaş, the centre to left-wing Communal Liberation Party -TKP (1976), and the conservative Democratic Party – DP (1992), which is a splitter from UBP). An important number of smaller parties have also been formed, which are usually short-lived. The Turkish Union Party – TBP, run by Turkish army veterans was founded in 1979 and later (early 1985) merged with the New Birth Party – YDP. They were representing mainland Turkish nationals, settlers established after the invasion on the northern part of the island and granted citizen rights. YDP contested the 1985 elections, and secured 7% of the vote. It subsequently merged with the Democratic Party, in 1992, only to re-establish itself as a separate formation again, in 2017. In January 2016, Gudret Özersay, former Turkish Cypriot negotiator at the intercommunal talks, founded the Halkin Partisi – People’s Party – HP. The new party contested successfully the January 2018 elections.
Phenomena of citizens alienation from politics and political parties observed in the Greek Cypriot community are also endemic in the Turkish Cypriot community. A weakening of the citizens-party ties and a sharp increase of abstention from politics and elections are common to both communities.
Splits and the formation of new political parties from dissidents has been a very regular feature of Turkish Cypriot politics. While this a a phenomenon that occurred several times and hit the National Unity Party – UBP, it has also taken place in other parties as well. Given that Turkish Cypriots have a parliamentary system, such splits and departures have caused the collapse of the government. This has over time added to the instability caused by the fragmentation of political forces and the need for coalitions. Splits or disagreements of parties in a coalition government have led to change in power or anticipated elections.