THERE IS a record number of groups – parties, combinations, movements –contesting today’s parliamentary elections which also have the highest ever number of registered voters. How many of those 542,915 voters will turn up to vote is another matter, with parties and the authorities repeatedly expressing concern about public apathy and the high percentage of abstention forecasted by opinion polls. All the politicians, including the president, have been urging people to exercise their right to vote as “abstaining and distancing oneself from participatory democracy do not cure the ills of political life.”
It could also be said that never before have voters had so much choice with an unprecedented 13 groups contesting today’s elections, even though several are just in the elections for the fun of it and others campaigning for a single issue like the Animal Party or Pnoi Laou which wants us to lead a more devout Christian life or Agonistes Dikeosinis that want to eliminate corruption; Simea Social Movement represents a specific interest group – the self-employed and small business owners – while Oli ston Agona stand for the interests of the disabled. Then there are parties that are vehicles for their respective leaders such as the Greens, the Solidarity Movement and Alliance of Citizens.
This leaves us with the four traditional parliamentary parties and the fascist ELAM that might fail to reach the 3.5 per cent threshold necessary for winning a seat. Most opinion polls indicated there would be seven parties in the new parliament – the four traditional parties plus the three leader vehicles – but there could be surprises with the fascists also squeezing in. Throughout the campaign, the smaller parties have been accusing the big two – DISY and AKEL – of undermining democracy by raising the election threshold and trying to limit representation in parliament, but is democracy better served by having a host of one-seat parties, which exist to serve their respective leaders?
As we know from the last parliament, having seven parties in the House, three of which had a single seat, did not greatly enhance our democracy, broaden debate or offer people more political choices. On all the major issues the parties were split into two camps. In one camp were all the populist opposition parties that blocked or drastically amended bills (in one case they even passed a law preventing the implementation of a law they had previously approved) submitted by the government as part of the country’s obligations under the memorandum and in the other was the responsible pro-government DISY. That memorandum bills were eventually passed was because DIKO, occasionally, backed them.
The election campaign strongly suggested we should not expect things to be any different in the new parliament. All opposition parties have resorted to the familiarly, irresponsible populist rhetoric, advocating more state spending as well as the lowering of taxes. Their proposals include increasing pensions, compensating bondholders, giving more to the unemployed and poor, spending money on job creation, returning money to pension funds that were subjected to the haircut, lowering VAT for essential goods, cutting the fuel tax etc. If half these measure were implemented we would be entering another assistance programme long before the new parliament completed its term.
Countering this shameful populism, which shows opposition parties learned nothing from the past’s gross mismanagement of state funds that led to bankruptcy and recession, is DISY, the only political party that stand for prudent management of the economy and rational policy choices. And the truth is that DISY, by its consistent support of the government, deserves much of the credit for the fact that Cyprus had successfully exited the assistance programme, the economy is on a recovery path, budget deficits have been phased out, the public debt is under control and modest growth is being recorded.
Would the country have achieved any of this if the opposition parties imposed their proposals in the last three years and put into effect their anti-Troika rhetoric? Yet now they are acting and talking as if the country had not been through the worst recession in its history three years ago, advocating a return to the past’s discredited irresponsible practices that led to the economy’s collapse. It is frightening that these parties exhibit such a short memory and complete inability to learn anything from the criminal mistakes of the past.
Despite the 13 different groups on the ballot paper, voters today only have two real choices.