Elections in divided countries

Coincidentally, Sunday and Monday saw elections in two places where what is internationally recognised as a single country consists in fact of two countries on the ground.

In Cyprus, which voted in legislative elections on Sunday, there were no real surprises (see my preview here). The three traditional parties, which dominated the last parliament, again filled the top three positions, but all of them lost further ground. (Official results here, with allocation of seats here.)

The Democratic Rally (centre-right) dropped 2.9% and lost one of its 18 seats; the Communist party, AKEL, fell by 3.3% and also lost a seat, going to 15; and the Democratic Party (centrist-nationalist) fell 3.2% to 11.3% but held all of its nine seats. The three between them won 62.4% of the vote, down from 82.7% in just two elections.

The other four parties that won seats are a mixed bag. ELAM is a fascist party, modelled on Greece’s Golden Dawn; it won 6.8% of the vote and four seats (up two). The Movement for Social Democracy, centre-left nationalists, were just behind with 6.7% and also four seats (down two). The Democratic Front, a liberal-centrist breakaway from the Democratic Party, debuted with 6.1% and four seats, while the Greens brought up the rear with 4.4% and three seats (up one).

That’s a total of 56 seats; there are also notionally 24 set aside for Turkish Cypriots, but they remain unfilled since the Turkish part of the island is not under government control. It was occupied by Turkish troops in 1974 and now regards itself as an independent country, although no-one apart from Turkey recognises it. Reunification seems as far away as ever, with attitudes on both sides hardening in recent years.

With full separation of powers, though, that’s primarily a problem for the president, not the House of Representatives. Centre-right president Nicos Anastasiades seems to have coped fairly well with a fragmented legislature to this point, and will probably continue to do so. But the voters are clearly unenthusiastic about their political establishment.

In Somaliland, which voted the following day, the boot is on the other foot. The international community recognises it as part of Somalia, but that country’s chaotic government has exercised no control there for thirty years. Since it seceded in 1991, Somaliland has been, at least by the standards of the region, a peaceful and well-governed place.

It has also done a better job than its neighbors as regards democracy. Like Cyprus it has full separation of powers, and presidential elections have been held with reasonable regularity (another is due next year) and an impressive commitment to democratic practice.

The legislative elections have not done so well. This is the first since 2007; it has been repeatedly postponed for a mixture of reasons, but the politicians now seem to have got their act together. No results have yet been reported, but the electoral commission calls for patience and describes the election (in Google Translate’s version) as “a miracle of the maturity and scope of democracy in the Republic of Somaliland.”

There are three political parties in Somaliland – only three are permitted by law, supposedly to prevent fragmentation along clan lines. Two of them, Kulmiye (broadly centrist) and the Justice and Development Party (broadly centre-left) won seats last time; the third, Waddani (more populist) is new, but was runner-up in the 2017 presidential election.

The big political issue is the quest for international recognition, and its leaders clearly hope that a successful election will improve their prospects. That may be, as the BBC report puts it, “a little bit too optimistic,” but they have a strong case. While it is something less than a model democracy, there’s no doubt that Somaliland has made a success of independence and deserves support.


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