“(A) clear separation between the State and political parties; in particular, political parties will not be merged with the State;”, is one of the “elements of justice, which are essential to the full expression of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all human beings”. This solemn statement in paragraph 5.4 of the document agreed by the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE (later transformed into OSCE), held in Copenhagen in June 1990, sets a fundamental prerequisite to the Rule of Law: State and party affairs must be clearly separated.
Cyprus was one of the 35 countries that participated in that solemn event, in which the world divided then between East and West managed to overcome their differences and agree on a 24-page document that set the guidelines to a common view of democracy. (I was there during the whole week of the Conference’s work, as representative of civil society).
Over thirty years later, in 2021, the President of Cyprus, member of the European Union since 2004 and signatory of the agreement, publicly asks the question “do they expect the government to remain indifferent” [during the election campaign]? “My government comes from DISY and cannot do otherwise that support the party...”
The President’s statement, his own and his government’s activities in recent weeks are in direct conflict with the clauses set by both the OSCE and the Venice Commission guidelines on the role of government during elections. These activities are also violating the recommendations of the Council of Europe on the coverage of elections, but also the Law of the Republic.
Abuse of State resources
In line with the requirement for the separation between the State and political parties, international organisations in which Cyprus is a member have adopted guidelines and recommendations aiming at ensuring respect of this clause. The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and the OSCE-ODIHR adopted a report in 2013 and guidelines in 2016 on the “Misuse of administration resources”, also termed as “abuse of State resources”. By resources they mean both human and material resources as well as non-material resources. The ‘use’ of an office, even of the prestige that an office offers for the promotion of a candidate or a political party is considered as abuse of State resources and it is a non-legitimate action that interferes with the fairness and impartiality of the electoral process. Actions that give undue advantages to a candidate or a political party put the other contestants of the election in an inferior position, the fight is unequal.
What are the specific activities that interfere with the elections of 30 May 2021?
The mere participation of the President and the ministers in the campaign are in conflict with the main clause. This participation has not been limited to isolated cases, of one, two or three events. It has not been either a mere presence in events.
Government ministers at first and the President later have deployed a sustained effort, with daily, multiple visits to communities, organisation of multiple pseudo-events and public announcements about future projects that would cost many millions, even billions of euros. In that effort, projects funded by European Union programs have taken a prominent place, a practice that nears the sign of deception.
One may ask “what is the problem with this”?
The answer is very simple! This activity does not fall within what can be termed as “normal government activity”. In some weeks, we have witnessed a proliferation, rather a flood of announcements and promises and an unprecedented “flow” of money, in words at least. Their number might be much bigger that the sum of announcements, visits and promises made over the three-year period since the second round of the 2018 presidential election.
In this respect, the relevant guideline of the Venice Commission (2016), reads as follows:
1. 3. The ordinary work of government must continue during an election period. However, in order to prevent the misuse of administrative resources to imbalance the level playing field during electoral competitions, the legal framework should state that no major announcements linked to or aimed at creating a favourable perception towards a given party or candidate should occur during campaigns.
The only exception to the above is when emergency or extraordinary events require immediate action, which cannot be delayed. It is clear, however, that this is in no way the case.
Unfair media coverage
The Recommendation 1999/15 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (I was a member of the group of experts that drafted it) demands that the coverage of elections by the media is fair, balanced and impartial. The same principles are also set in the Recommendation R2007/15, which updates the previous one in accordance with the new media environment. It clearly provides that
“No privileged treatment should be given by broadcasters to public authorities during such
What we are witnessing, however, during this period of time, is a coverage of the electoral campaign by Cyprus media that is hijacked by a variety of multiple public interventions of the President and the ministers. They are de facto occupying the front stage, with continuous and extensive access to media time, relegating political party activity to a secondary role. The time dedicated to the activities of the executive, directly connected to the elections is by far bigger than that for political parties contesting the election. By definition, this offers a clear advantage, an undue advantage to the party supporting the government and getting support by it in return. As in the case of the competition, the media coverage is not fair, lacking also balance and impartiality. The principles set in the Council of Europe Recommendations as well as in guidelines of other international organisations are violated.
In this respect, regulations KDP 193/2006, which set the rules for the fair and balanced treatment of political parties, clearly stipulate that statements and activities by government officials that promote projects or send messages related to the election, as well as other relevant actions should be counted in the coverage time of the party that benefits from them.
While this is not the case, and the Cyprus Radio Television Authority has the power to intervene to correct the situation, we are witnessing not such an action.
“Grey” political advertising
I define as “grey political advertising” the advertising spots of the government about its work and projects, sometimes even about European Union funded projects that do not bear any indication that they are “political advertising”, as required by law. If these are not political advertising and since RIK /the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation is banned from screening commercial advertising, how else can these items be described as?
Thus, while the right of political parties and independent candidates to political advertising is according to the Cyprus Law limited with a time-ceiling, the government benefits by an advertising process of unlimited duration. This, again, offers a clear advantage to the Democratic Rally, leaving the rest of the political forces in a competition which is clearly unfair, not balanced and not impartial.
Lack of fairness and unequal treatment are also extended to the area of funding the electoral campaign. The funds for paying the government advertisements are not counted as expenses of the party that benefits from it, and the ceiling set for political party expenditure is no more effective for this party. This is a violation of the Law.
It transpires from the above that statements by the President of the Republic, his activities and the activities of the government are in conflict with the fundamental principle of justice, the required separation between the State and political parties. We have a triple violation of basic rules that aim at ensuring fair, balanced and impartial elections. There is an abuse of State resources, there are violations of the laws on media coverage of elections and violations of the rules that set a ceiling for the duration of political advertising and for electoral expenses. The integrity of the electoral process is severely damaged by all these activities.