The presidential elections of 2003 featured some special characteristics that justify their labeling as an extraordinary contest in the history of the Republic of Cyprus. The course towards the election day was marked by two factors, decisions relevant to the accession of Cyprus to the European Union and the presentation of a UN plan to resolve the Cyprus Problem. The two issues were linked to and influenced the choices of candidates, the content, and the overall conduct of the election campaign.

Important events en route to the 2003 ballot were as follows:
• In May 2001, DIKO offered support to Demetris Christofias, General Secretary of AKEL for his election to the Presidency of the House of Representatives. This was a sign of AKEL’s future support to Tassos Papadopoulos, President of DIKO, for the Presidency of the Republic in 2003.
• In November 2002, the United Nations presented a comprehensive plan for resolving the Cyprus Problem and reunifying the island. The plan remained in history as the Annan Plan, from the name of the UN Secretary-General who presented it.
• In December 2002, the European Union decided to include Cyprus in the enlargement due on 1 May 2004, irrespective of whether Cyprus would solve its problem or remain divided.
• Efforts to promote the Annan Plan and the process for accession of Cyprus to the EU had been combined with the aim for the European Union to welcome among its members a united country.

Since the summer of 2002, AKEL, DIKO and EDEK had endorsed Tassos Papadopoulos’ candidacy for the February 2003 presidential election, aiming to end the ten-year hold on power by Glafkos Clerides and DISY. In a disrupting move aiming to break the three-party front, DISY followed a proposal of its chairman Nicos Anastasiades and nominated Giannakis Omirou, chairman of EDEK, as the party’s candidate. The presentation of the Annan Plan and the deadlines set for its promotion in connection with accession to the EU of a united Cyprus changed DISY’s plans. Glafkos Clerides decided to seek re-election to the presidency of the Republic for a third term, requesting a 16-month term in order to complete the settlement of the Cyprus Problem and the EU accession process. EDEK felt very offended and returned in support of Tassos Papadopoulos, while at the same time, Alecos Markides, Attorney General and a close associate of President Clerides, announced his candidacy, believing he was in line to succeed Clerides. Several prominent DISY officials supported the candidacy of Alecos Markides.

Nikos Koutsou, the President of New Horizons, and six other candidates without support from any political party or organized group completed the list of ten contenders of the supreme office in the Republic.

The campaign was limited in duration because it had been interrupted twice, when the Annan Plan was presented in November 2002 and during a European summit in Copenhagen in December, as well as holidays for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. The campaign lasted about five weeks, from the beginning of January 2003, after the announcement of Glafcos Clerides’ candidacy, until mid-February when the elections were held.

A lonely rider at the time, Papadopoulos launched his electoral campaign in late September; his slogan was ‘We are starting out – for the Cyprus we deserve’ (‘Ξεκινάμε-για την Κύπρο που μας αξίζει’). His extensive and costly advertising on street hoardings and in the press was criticized by the Democratic Rally as a very rich politician’s attempt to seize power. The focus was on youth, education and other domestic policy issues, projecting a negative image of the government and stressing the need for change. The campaign was interrupted in mid-November by the presentation of the Annan Plan. No electoral activity took place until other candidatures were announced in the first days of January.

At this point, a shift in both tone and content was apparent; the Cyprus issue and the efforts for a solution moved to the heart of the campaign. At the same time, no candidate discussed the core of the issue, in an attempt to avoid a situation where the Greek Cypriots would be ‘negotiating in public’ among themselves on the merits and negative points of the United Nations plan. This was a most convenient formula for all political forces, since they could content themselves with generalities. 12 The plan was a hot potato for all and the electorate was equally split between those prepared to vote in favour and those rejecting it. The split cut across party lines and for any candidate to adopt a clear position would yield more damages than benefits.

A new element was added to the campaign when Parliament amended the radio and television laws to allow paid political advertising on broadcast media. Because of the short campaign period and the potential of television, the major effort focused on television spots, even though the tight production deadlines did not allow for either a variety of spots or elaborate ones.

The Issues

Alecos Markides began first, with a structured and intensive effort on television in mid-January, trying to convince the voters that he had the will, the experience and the competent collaborators required to respond to the island’s needs with regard to the economy, European affairs, internal and other policies. He projected the slogan of a ‘a clear solution’ to the Cyprus issue and stressed his negotiating experience. In public statements he often adopted hard-line positions, occasionally criticizing the president on issues relating to the negotiations and domestic government.

Tassos Papadopoulos started with a couple of negative spots about the government that were discontinued; the amended radio and television law stipulates that non-substantiated negative advertisements about other candidates are prohibited. He continued with a spot putting together the pieces of a puzzle in the shape of the island to show that only his skills could set it right, while at the same time stressing his commitment to work for a solution and a united Cyprus.

Glafcos Clerides had announced that he was not going to conduct an electoral campaign. However, the alarming signals from opinion polls obliged him to resort to other means of publicity: exclusive television and newspaper interviews, in which he referred to the Republic’s European course and the crucial deadlines for EU entry, along with the pressing need for a solution to the island’s problem. He insisted that these reasons necessitated the renewal of his term for 16 months (that is, until after EU accession) in order to complete his work. Furthermore, a group of Clerides’ supporters campaigned on his behalf, both in the press and on television. They focused on the major achievement of entry to the European family and the need to find an immediate solution on the basis of the Annan Plan, stressing the latter’s positive aspects. The key phrase was ‘We don’t risk it’ (that is, another option).

Pursuing the new practice of indoor meetings in sport halls and other large buildings, along with sponsoring open-air concerts by artists from Greece, the political parties and candidates showed that they had abandoned open-air large rallies. Experience indicates that the latter, a major feature of elections until the early 1990s, has limited chances of success today. To a certain extent, parties and candidates can compensate for the lack of feedback provided by these forms of electoral activity through direct contact with voters, while measuring their appeal through opinion polls.

Although television spots focused on the Cyprus issue and the European Union, domestic policies frequently featured in television debates as part of public dialogue. These issues played their role in the outcome of the elections. Citizens’ views on domestic affairs had been formed over a long period and were finally not overshadowed by the conjuncture of developments on the Cyprus question. This was also apparent in opinion polls where, over time, Tassos Papadopoulos won points over Glafcos Clerides in the public’s view concerning his aptitude to deal successfully with both categories of issues. AKEL used also ideology in its fight against ‘the government of the right’ and Glafcos Clerides.

Supported by AKEL, EDEK, the Ecologists and his own party, DIKO, Tassos Papadopoulos won the election in the first round, on February 16, 2003, with 51.51%. It was the second time in the post-Makarios era that elections gave a winner without a by-election. The election of Spyros Kyprianou, in the first round, took place exactly twenty years earlier, again with the support of AKEL.

Glafkos Clerides secured 38.8% and Alecos Markides was confined to 6.62%, while Nikos Koutsou’s, President of New Horizons, share was 2.12%.

Before officially assuming office as President of the Republic, Tassos Papadopoulos and the outgoing President Glafcos Clerides welcomed the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in Cyprus. The SG presented the third version of the Cyprus Settlement Plan, and two weeks later, on March 10, 2003, he met with Tassos Papadopoulos and Rauf Denktas in The Hague. Denktas rejected the Plan, while Tassos Papadopoulos agreed to discuss it on certain conditions.

On April 16, 2003, Tassos Papadopoulos signed the Treaty of Accession of Cyprus to the European Union, in Athens. He thus sealed an effort that started with the application for accession submitted by George Vassiliou in 1990 and continued since 1998 with the accession negotiations, conducted by the Clerides government with George Vassiliou head of the negotiating team.