Election preview: Cyprus (legislature)

Cyprus goes to the polls on Sunday for legislative elections. The House of Representatives serves a five-year term, with 56 members elected by proportional representation in six multi-member constituencies. There are also 24 seats reserved for Turkish Cypriot members, but they remain unfilled since the Turkish part of the island has been occupied by Turkey since 1974.

Cyprus has full separation of powers – the only such system in the European Union – so legislative elections do not determine the government. The more important election is for the presidency, which was held more than three years ago; Nicos Anastasiades, of the centre-right Democratic Rally, was re-elected with a comfortable 56.0% in the second round, and will serve until February 2023.

Nonetheless, the legislative election is worth a look for an indication of how Cypriot politics are going. Five years ago, the voters sent eight different parties into parliament, but only three of them had more than three seats: Democratic Rally with 18 (from 30.7% of the vote), the Communist party, AKEL, with 16 (25.7%) and the centrist-nationalist Democratic Party with nine (14.5%). The rest spread widely, from the Greens with 4.8% to the far right with 3.7%.

That was something of a comedown for the three major parties, which had previously been used to winning about 80% of the vote between them but this time could only manage just over 70%. If the polls are right, that trend is continuing: although the three are still well clear of the rest of the field, they are on track to win 65% or less in aggregate. It looks as if Cypriot voters are unhappy with their political establishment but unable to settle on any alternative.

As in most places, traditional political issues – which in Cyprus include the sluggish economy and the long-running dispute with Turkey – have been to a large extent displaced by Covid-19. The country’s experience of the pandemic has been mid-field, neither outstandingly good nor bad, but its important tourism sector has been badly hit. Concerns about the disease may also depress turnout, with public apathy already a matter of concern.

According to the polls, while Democratic Rally is still in the lead the gap between it and AKEL has been narrowing: from more than ten points a year ago down to just two or three. Term limits prevent Anastasiades from running again in 2023, but a poor performance on Sunday would create problems for the latter part of his term as well as being a bad omen for his party’s chances of securing the succession.

Polls close at 1am Monday in eastern Australia (6pm local time), so results should be available by breakfast time.

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