General apathy with public affairs, but likewise frustration with the credit crunch and disappointment with politicians went a long way toward one-third of registered voters not bothering to cast a ballot in Sunday’s legislative elections.
The abstention rate of 33.25 per cent was the highest ever recorded in parliamentary elections, trailing only the European Parliament elections of 2014, where non-participation had clocked in at 56 per cent.
By comparison, the rate of abstention in the 2011 parliamentary ballot was 21.32 per cent.
The biggest losers due to voter apathy turned out to be main opposition AKEL, who dropped 7.1 percentage points compared to the 2011 results, losing three seats in the House in the process.
Ruling DISY meanwhile dropped 3.7 per cent, but seepage to the smaller parties – the Solidarity Movement, DIKO, and to a lesser degree to nationalists ELAM – was more likely the factor rather than apathy.
Of all the ‘old’ parties, DIKO alone held fast to its parliamentary seats, garnering nine as in the previous legislative vote five years ago.
“There are two classes of apathetic voters. You’ve got those who are disgruntled with the political system, the events of 2013 and the financial crisis,” offered political commentator Louis Igoumenides.
“The other category are primarily AKEL people who shunned their party, either because they still feel let down by the Christofias administration or because they did not see their party take a proactive approach to current affairs.”
A case in point, said Igoumenides, is AKEL’s incumbent MP Irini Charalambidou, emphatically re-elected after garnering the most votes by any candidate (16,847).
It was the public perception of her fighting the bankers and exposing economic scandals which earned her that support, the analyst added.
In stark contrast to this hands-on mode, the AKEL apparatus by and large had restricted itself to generic rhetoric of the ‘the economic situation is bad, income inequality is on the rise’ variety.
More significantly, Igoumenides told the Cyprus Mail, the election outcome does not bode well for the current reunification talks.
DISY and AKEL, or the ‘pro-solution camp’, received a combined 56.36 per cent of the popular vote. The other parties, which are opposed to a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, grabbed 40.44 per cent.
But in the event of a referendum on a Cyprus settlement, the pro-solution parties can be expected to suffer considerable leakage, perhaps as much as 10 percentage points – bringing them down to 46 per cent and evening out the odds.
Many DISY and AKEL fanatical supporters are uncomfortable that their respective parties should be in agreement and work together on any issue, not excluding the Cyprus problem.
“To these people, cooperation is like sacrilege, high treason. That might therefore prompt them to vote against a settlement in a referendum,” said Igoumenides.
By contrast, the anti-settlement camp is “iron-clad.”
This would leave it to undecided voters to settle the outcome of the plebiscite.
The flavour of the election results in the south were not lost on the Turkish Cypriot press. Daily Afrika noted that the ‘yes front’ was weakened, the ‘no front’ was strengthened and ELAM entered into the parliament for the first time taking two seats.
And under the headline ‘Dynamite to the solution’, Diyalog wrote that “in parallel to the terrorist ELAM organization, which entered into the parliament, the votes of fascist racist parties increased and the votes of AKEL and DISI decreased.”
Igoumenides believes that now, more than ever, DISY and AKEL must set their differences aside.
The two parties should come out and explicitly state they are working together toward a solution, and put their squabbles – such as on the privatisation of state-controlled enterprises – in the cooler for a while.
In the elections’ aftermath, rumours were floating that DISY might even nominate AKEL leader Andros Kyprianou for House Speaker – a position now up for grabs.
Though Igoumenides thinks it a long shot, he believes that this move would solidify the two parties’ partnership, sending the message that solving the Cyprus problem takes precedence.