By Demetrios Nicolaides
WITH future hydrocarbons wealth an almost certainty, the prospect of economic prosperity and a high quality of life is slowly becoming a tangible reality, and indeed deciding how to allocate and spend this incredible wealth will be crucial to the future development and economic sustainability of the island.
However, the lack of long term fiscal planning and proven financial mismanagement by the island’s political leadership is a cause for concern. Our current political leaders continue to prove their incompetence through nepotism, derogation from commonsense, misappropriation of government funds and outright criminal negligence. It thus remains a real possibility that future wealth may be misused and wasted, which may already underway through the government’s plan to build a costly and potentially unsustainable LNG terminal to ship Cypriot gas abroad.
With our inept political leadership, the promise of a prosperous future quickly fades. However, there is no need for the future to be clouded in uncertainty and gloom. Greater involvement and active participation in our political system can significantly counter the negative aspects of the current political landscape.
Declining voter turnout is a global phenomenon and is a challenge that cannot be easily rectified. Many voters experience electoral fatigue and feel disassociated from the political process. Convincing apathetic voters of the need to cast a ballot requires significant resources including adequate finances, ample volunteers, high levels of motivation and determination.
There are massive organisations in many countries around the world that pour and incredible amount of resources into increasing voter turnout, yet they are only marginally successful. Creating a new party is another possibility but this new party would have to mobilize apathetic voters or steal votes from existing parties. With the challenges in increasing voter turnout the only real strategy for a new party would be to steal voters from existing parties. However, Cypriot politics is incredibly stagnant and voters have little incentive to abandon their party in favor of another, particularly as Cyprus operates a highly clientistic electoral system.
Furthermore, a new party would also have to challenge the existing political parties who are firmly in control and well ensconced. Although new parties are consistently created and manage to gain parliamentary representation, they are often, if not always, created from within, when sitting representatives abandon their current party to form a new political unit such as the European Party (EVROKO). Although there have been other parties created though ‘grassroots’ efforts, they have essentially failed in securing parliamentary representation and changing the political landscape. Indeed, trying to challenge the existing political structure head-on is a daunting and perhaps impossible task.
Another significant challenge to those who may want to garner expatriate or non-Cypriot voters under a single political party is the fact that thousands of residents do not retain the right to vote. According to Cyprus law, only citizens can vote in parliamentary and presidential elections. This is similar to the legislation in other countries, but even after the required seven years of permanent residency has been fulfilled, many ‘foreigners’ are still unable to secure Cypriot citizenship. Many simply have no use for Cypriot citizenship while others are caught in bureaucratic red tape which results in them waiting many more years to acquire citizenship. I have personally heard stories from individuals who have lived in Cyprus for 10 or 15 years and have still not managed to obtained citizenship.
The result is that thousands if not tens of thousands of expatriates, Europeans and third-country nationals that are unable to cast a ballot. The most recent nation-wide census (2011) found that over 20% of Cyprus’ population or 170,000 individuals were ‘non-Cypriot’ and as they do not retain Cypriot citizenship, they are not entitled to vote in Presidential or Parliamentary elections. However, casting a ballot is not the only means of influencing decision-making and should expatriates, Europeans or other groups of concerned citizens become motivated, they can still create real change from within.
Although the internal structure or organization of a party differs, the underlying elements are the same and unlike voting in parliamentary and presidential elections, a party does not require its members to be citizens of the Republic. For example DISY’s constitution provides that any Cypriot Citizen or person of Cypriot origin or any European citizen currently residing in Cyprus aged 18 over, is entitled to become a member: EDEK is more inclusive and permits membership to any permanent resident of Cyprus. Therefore, according to these parties’ rules, the entire expatriate community, all other European nationals and even third-country nationals are permitted to join political parties and be afforded certain rights such as selecting the party leader, being candidates for internal party committees and guiding party policy.
Dozens, if not hundreds or ideally thousands of expatriates, European and/or third-country nationals can assemble under the banner of a single association and subdivide into respective party camps, where they can become active members.
We can no longer sit idly by and watch our inept politicians take this country from bad to worse. We must work together, mobilise, and change the existing political structure from within. By operating from within, we can carefully scrutinise parliamentary and presidential candidates and ensure that only the highest caliber and most qualified candidates are put forward. Within many of these existing parties there are also young and progressive voices that have a desire for change and for better management, but they are often speaking merely as individuals and have little chance of influencing party doctrine.
Most parties also have a rigid structure and policy of candidate nomination, as aspiring candidates are first required to serve the party for a significant amount of time, before being permitted to run as a candidate. A new internal movement, could also help aspiring young party members move the ranks faster. Although such an initiative will encounter a great deal of resistance from existing party members, there will also be those that will work with the movement to create a better future. Furthermore, even if the existing party members despise this, as a fully paid and active member, your rights to vote and exercise your opinion are safeguarded in the party’s constitution.
The old adage rings true, “If you cannot beat them, join them”, which is precisely what must be done. Rather than fighting loosing battles against the established parties and traditional voting patterns, why not work with the parties and the existing structures to create change from the inside-out.
With high quality parliamentarians and Presidents, we can create viable long-term economic plans, privatise costly government services, reduce bureaucracy, scale-back public services, improve road safety and driving conditions, increase the quality of health care and education, improve our standard of living and most importantly, develop a comprehensive strategy to invest natural gas revenue that will allow the development of a resilient and diversified economy and prosperity for the foreseeable future.
Dr Demetrios Nicolaides, PhD in Political Science