By Andria Kades
An alarming 77 per cent of young Cypriots have said they will not vote in May’s parliamentary elections mostly because they don’t trust political parties, a study by the Cyprus Institute of Statisticians revealed this week.
Of the overwhelming majority who said they wouldn’t vote, 37 per cent of the 628 18 to 35-year-olds polled said it was because they didn’t trust political parties, while 25 per cent said it was because politicians lie.
A further 23 per cent said their lack of interest in voting was because no-one seemed interested in helping them find a job.
Even more interesting was that 67 per cent of youths who said they weren’t voting were educated to an undergraduate or postgraduate degree level.
This disaffection is supported by what has been described as the ‘tragic’ number of young people registering to vote.
By the March before the last parliamentary elections in May 2011, 14,835 young voters had already registered. By this week a mere 2,850 out of the 37,000 born between January 1, 1990 and May 22, 1998 had done so.
“Unfortunately the picture is disappointing, there is minimal response and if compared with the respective period of 2011 it appears to be tragic,” electoral service director Demetris Demetriou said last month.
Sad though the disengagement may be, to observers of the tumultuous events which have shaken the island in recent years it appears to be a logical consequence.
“The financial crisis played an important role in this. There was one left wing government and one right wing government but the impression they left was that no one could do much not the one nor the other,” Dimitris Trimithiotis, University of Cyprus visiting professor at the department of social and political sciences, told the Sunday Mail.
Youths that were perhaps enchanted by the earlier radical rhetoric of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras soon discovered that essentially politics is done a certain way and there’s not much room for change, he added.
There is also the “lack of trust towards institutions. Youths don’t believe things can change through politics.”
“We accuse the youth (of not being engaged with politics) but we forget politics is getting more and more distant from them,” he said.
Decision-making takes place at a European and international level with local people having no say in developments.
This is what people mean when they say “nothing changes” Trimithiotis said.
This sense of powerless and cynicism about the political landscape is immediately evident when speaking to young would-be voters.
Yiannos Markou, a 24-year-old recent graduate scoffs at the mere mention of him voting.
“What’s the point of me going to vote? Is it going to make any difference? Everyone’s exactly the same. Politicians just look out for their own pockets,” he said.
Maria Neophytou, 23, comes from a family that was always engaged in politics, with one parent being a supporter of AKEL, the other backing DISY.
Her parents’ interest in politics has evidently died with her.
“I see no difference between them. The ‘differences’ are a charade. In essence they’re the same. They don’t care about me and I don’t care about them.”
AKEL’s youth wing EDON leader Christos Christophia said he was taken aback by the low numbers of young voters who had registered so far.
“I knew it was bad but not that bad.”
He attributes the spiralling disengagement to two main reasons. The first was the financial crisis which gave birth to a lot of criticism slung back and forth but showed people “politics didn’t actually deal with the banking crisis”.
The second is that “the level of political discussion has fallen very, very low,” a result of fighting which was exercised by both the previous government and the current one.
NEDISY, the youth wing of DISY, did not respond to a request to comment.
Giorgos Nearchou, 25, in his final year at university believes the two main parties – AKEL and DISY – at polar opposites of the ideological spectrum each have one major blight to their legacy.
“For AKEL it was Mari. For DISY it was the haircut,” he said.
“These are things the people can never forget.”
He believes that the political parties will have a hard time shaking off the negative connotation associated with the events in people’s minds and the attachment to the party name.
A changing system may also be a contributing factor to the figures, Trimithiotis told the Sunday Mail.
Cyprus, being a party run state, was – and is – rife with aspiring and already established deputies making promises. Lines such as “vote for this person and they’ll get you a job” are the cashless bribes that got many to vote in the past.
Although this is still done, it is to a lesser extent, Trimithiotis said, adding that though nepotism is hard to avoid in a country the size of Cyprus, there are more hurdles in place now.
Not voting, however, only helps the stronger parties, so by not casting a ballot, big parties actually benefit, he said.
This may actually be a strategy strong political parties utilise to actually help themselves get ahead in election times.
Previously, big money was spent on getting students to even fly back to the island to vote. Although this has stopped now that polling stations are set up in popular Cypriot expat spots, essentially, it’s a win-win situation.
Large parties have the finances to make more promises, pay for transport – for students to travel from Blackpool to Manchester to vote for example – and even if not many people vote, this strengthens the position of parties.
Fotis Stephanou, 22, acknowledges this. “It’s like choosing the lesser evil. There’s no one I want to vote for, but when I do it’s just because I don’t want certain people to get elected.”
For some however, the right to vote is a democratic privilege which cannot be squandered away.
For 22-year-old Stella Panagiotou “voting is something holy, we can’t just throw it away like it means nothing. If we have this right, we have to use it.”
Her friend Maro Gregoriou, 21, disagreed. “It’s not the voting people have a problem with, it’s the people.”
“Nothing is perfect, but we can choose the people who we think can do the best for us,” Panagiotou insisted.
Gregoriou looked sceptical.
“Politicians do not represent me – and I don’t think anyone can.”