By Andria Kades
It’s promise time in Cyprus’ politics and although the threshold for being considered for a seat in parliament has been pushed up to 3.6 per cent, a plethora of new parties have been formed since the last parliamentary elections in 2011.
Even the established smaller parties such as EDEK, the Greens and the Citizens Alliance (though formed after the last elections it had a seat in the last parliament through a defection) are going to have their work cut out to keep their seats under the new regulations. Yet these new parties are determinedly optimistic over their chances of securing a place in the 56-seat parliament.
What are the problems all of them claim to face? Limited media attention and no funding. Struggling to get by on their own finances from donations, sponsorships and member support, several of them say they are only running with a few MPs as it is not possible to pay the €500 deposit every candidate needs to pay to get on the ticket, not to mention the pre-election campaign.
The Sunday Mail contacted these new kids on the block to find out what they have to offer and what motivated them to stand.
The Animal Party just celebrated two years since its inception and its best gift would be a seat in parliament on May 22.
Though it wouldn’t be a present as such, but rather the result of hard work without any government support, a long standing fight to change the way animals are treated in Cyprus and to get their voice heard over the usual political static, party leader Kyriakos Kyriakou told the Sunday Mail.
“I think we will make it because when you work and make sacrifices and you believe in what you’re doing then you will succeed,” he said.
Kyriakou remembers five years ago sitting in a room during a meeting with several officials including the former attorney-general and raising his hand to ask about animal welfare.
“Everyone looked at me like I’d said something bizarre.”
Now, views have changed, he says. Although there is still room for improvement the public sees people being sentenced for animal cruelty while animal stories are actually making the headlines with the public taking proactive steps to help animals.
Although the animal welfare law Kyriakou managed to have passed in the 1990s through his NGO is based on a Swedish model, he feels that while on paper it is great, implementation has been problematic.
For instance, the law provides for on the spot fines, yet in practice this does not happen.
Additionally, offences need to be categorised and have corresponding penalties so judges can pass proper sentences – someone who keeps their dog tied up cannot really be piled into the same group as one who stabs an animal.
Running with 15 candidates, eight in Limassol, two in Paphos and one in every remaining district of Nicosia, Larnaca, Kyrenia and Famagusta, the Animal Party’s manifesto is based on three pillars: “humans, animals and nature.”
If elected, Kyriakou is aware, he says, that if he becomes an MP he will not only be called on to vote on animal matters but a staggering array of political, economic and social legislation.
If for instance “foreclosures policies have to do with our three pillars of course we will take a stance. If our members say these matters don’t have anything to do with us there is always abstention,” he says.
In parliament “you will hear us talk more about the rights and well being of animals… you will hear us talking about every day matters. We care about the toxins kids consume in their milk. The illegal slaughterhouses…”
What do they hope they will achieve?
Education is key, starting with children and working up to adults. Already the party, with the help of the education ministry has tried to get animal welfare into the school curriculum.
“They told us that it would take 10 years. Instead they said they are going to do other things for example publish some books and put them slowly, slowly within the system and because every school has a team for animals and nature, it can be pushed through there.”
When it comes to adults, it’s understanding that even an apparently light-seeming four-month sentence handed down to someone for mistreating an animal is still a punishment.
To these people Kyriakou says “do you know that if you stay in prison for one day that your clean record is over, nobody will employ you? Your career is over, everything is lost. Four months is a big achievement.”
On the note of achievements, Kyriakou also believes other parties are being little copycats – no pun intended – as they are bolstering images of themselves as animal lovers.
“A chameleon can change colours, but these people will never change colours. We saw some candidates put photos in the media and Facebook that they are animal lovers and blah blah blah. Good luck to them. We want them to copy us as long as it’s not just for the elections.”
Convinced people won’t be fooled, the party leader is also proud of the fact that his party has managed “to put our small little stone within Cypriot society” and be taken seriously.
Cooperating with several European counterparts, Kyriakou believes one reason they are supported by the public is that they’re also welcoming to foreign nationals.
“They pay their taxes, they have their homes…I tell them you don’t have a sign saying you’re foreigners or you’re idiots and we’ll scam you in our party.” Rather, the main cause that unifies them is the improvement of animal welfare on this little island.
British nationals are on the ticket and all candidates, according to Kyriakou are vegetarian or vegans.
And it’s stance on the Cyprus problem?
“The stance is simple. We want the continuation of the RoC. That’s what we all want. We want to be free like a bird flies from north to south. Like water runs from Troodos to all of us. We want freedoms like everyone does. We want human rights implemented as designated by the EU – to everyone.”
Although struggling to get by financially as it does not receive any state support, Kyriakou questions why taxpayers are forced to cough up money used to fund big party pre election campaigns.
“People are fed up,” he says and that is why he feels positive. The public, according to Kyriakou, is ready for change.
KINIMA SYMEA, the coalition of small businesses and the self employed, isn’t making any promises to the voting public. That’s not because there’s nothing they want to change – no there’s plenty of that.
Rather, they want people to look at what they’ve done and hopefully believe that SYMEA’s actions speak louder than their words.
According to leader Stavros Alambritis, they have helped thousands of people even though the political branch of the movement only came to life a year ago after the SYMEA trade union was set up three years ago to form a coalition of small businesses and self employed persons.
“We’re not going to do what all the big parties are doing and say we’ll do A, B, C. No, we tell people what we’ve already done,” he says.
“Already we’ve helped literally thousands of people, over 3,000 with their non-performing loans. People that were consumed with desperation and some who even told us they were on the brink of suicide.”
With their own team of financial experts, at “a very low cost” they help people restructure their loans making payments easier, Alambritis said.
Additionally the SYMEA company, operating much like a co-op with members owning shares, offers loans to its members at an interest of two per cent, a facility many who are in prison for outstanding debts use to help pay up.
Perhaps their most ambitious plan should they get a seat, is an overhaul of the banking sector. For starters, all loans should be stripped of interest rates and expenses that accumulated over the past five to six years, while for the next five years no interest rates should be added on loans. This is to give people a chance to pay back their debts after years of financial hardship.
Although it sounds like an impossible promise to keep, Alambritis is confident it can be done. “We will either impose this, or clash with the entire banking sector” and still emerge victorious, he said.
SYMEA will not allow foreclosures to move forward. “It’s the worst thing that can happen to our country and will sell us off to the Turks…the state needs to protect homes and not sell them off,” he said.
Apart from also protecting bondholders, the movement also wants to change pension schemes. “It’s not right that some people get €5,000 a month and others get €300. No, we want to create a fair state embracing all citizens equally.”
What would the future of that state be in relation to the Cyprus problem?
SYMEA’s stance on the issue is pretty clear. They want a solution because not having one “will never allow our children to have a good future or our economy flourish” but “it has to ensure the continuity of Hellenism on the island.”
Despite the odds, they are confident they’ll get a seat. According to Alambritis, people have realised the truth. “The two big parties keep bickering but it’s all staged and the public know it.”
“We’ve helped a lot of people and I think our work will pay off.”
A ‘patriotic power’ – Solidarity
Branding itself as a “patriotic power” the Solidarity Movement is running with a full contingent of 56 candidates even though it was formed fewer than six months ago.
Created in December last year by Eleni Theocharous, the MEP is widely known for two things – breaking ranks with ruling DISY due to her hardline stance on the Cyprus problem and her philanthropic work that has seen her travel to different parts of the world ranging from Africa, the Gaza Strip and Afghanistan as a volunteer surgeon.
The movement promises to “overturn the bankrupt status quo that destroyed Cyprus” and create a state that combats corruption and does not tolerate lack of punishment for wrongdoing.
It has also seen the right wing EVROKO dissolved to merge with the Solidarity Movement which wants to push forward financial, social and political reforms that could lay the foundations for a new state based on “virtues, ideals, principles and values”.
Although Theocharous was not immediately available for her comment to outline what those reforms may be, the goals of the movement, “are to serve citizens equally upholding people’s individual and social rights”.
Wanting to work on a model of transparency, it says it is staffed by volunteers who all share the same vision.
The “patriotic” movement wants to liberate the island and maintain the Republic of Cyprus as a European state, finding a “democratic European solution” to the decades old problem.
THESE guys don’t want to joke around. OAD don’t have a list of promises, or hopes or demands. They call them commandments.
There’s 16 Dos and Don’ts posted on their website including a demand that the church should obtain a loan from abroad and use it to help young people find a job, nepotism should be made an offence, the attorney-general should be elected the same way the president is and employers who hire people that already have a job should be prosecuted as it takes a way a source of income from someone who may not have any work.
The fact that OAD’s leader Michael Minas is the son of a police superintendent may be one factor why so many of the commandments involve the police force.
For instance, the fourth commandment wants to fight corruption. Thus, members of police and security forces should be exempt from any pay cuts to prevent them from accepting bribes. “They should be satisfactorily rewarded so they feel proud and dignified.”
Additionally, police forces should have greater jurisdiction, there should be stricter measures to select new members, and new prisons should be build immediately “to send a message to Cyprus’ thieves that no one is above the law”.
Set up in August last year, OAD says its aim is “to impose justice” and will resist any power that tries to come their way.
Only a few weeks ago, it announced it was “dragging parliament to court” after it voted in favour of increasing the electorate threshold from 1.8 per cent to 3.6 per cent.
This only benefits the large parties which aim to strangle the smaller ones fighting to secure a seat, it said.
Nevertheless, Minas is confident. “We will turn things upside down. They won’t know what’s hit them. They will think a hurricane stepped into parliament. I say this with utmost seriousness.”
Although it’s not even been eight months since its inception, Pnoi Laou (People’s Spirit) is vying to get a seat in parliament this June. With seven candidates, two in Nicosia and one in all remaining districts – Limassol, Paphos, Larnaca, Famagusta and Kyrenia it is pledging to stamp out corruption.
It does not identify itself as a party but rather brands itself as a movement – making itself one with the people.
“Our candidates have no previous affiliation with politics,” the general secretary Maria Leonidou told the Sunday Mail and thus, have their hands clean from all the filth and corruption current politicians have.
“We created this movement because the public is sick of the big parties and they want something different.”
They claim to be the first to have both the organisation’s and executive members’ financial records online.
Leonidou said Pnoi Laou was also the first to go public with their own recommendation for a solution to the Cyprus problem rather than just “the usual criticisms” of whatever comes of the talks.
This includes the complete withdrawal of all troops – both Greek and Turkish – the return of all settlers to Turkey except those married to Turkish Cypriots and maintaining the Republic of Cyprus’ name and flag with a call for competition on a new national anthem. Official languages would be Greek and Turkish.
“We want the Republic of Cyprus. We support our state and all our legal citizens should enjoy privileges – settlers are not legal citizens.”
Another of their pledges is that if elected, MPs would only have one term in parliament.
“Already we’ve had people approach us for beneficial business relationships. You know, offering a job there, a helping hand to someone in exchange for votes – we don’t accept any of that. It goes against our values,” Leonidou said.
Leonidou feels some of the initiatives they’ve taken so far have been of great help. Apart from the public financial records, the movement has also created a not-for-profit company that deals exclusively with scandals.
“Many scandals are brought to light but for one reason or another they’re buried away. We want people to wake up and not forget about them.”
It keeps a timeline of what scandal emerges when and at what stage investigations may be at.