Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

Abundance of parties no indicator of democracy

ELAM candidates for the parliamentary elections

By George Koumoullis

The extreme fragmentation of political parties evident in the recent parliamentary elections is worrying because a large number of parties is not necessarily an indicator of a well-functioning democracy with strong institutions.

A concern is that the small (and particularly the newly established) parties trumpet that they stand for the principles of modernisation, when in reality all these parties are one-person vehicles promoting the cult of the leader, which is why all efforts at merging them are futile. The merging of these parties would simplify politics and the state would save a respectable amount of money now spent on ‘security’ for the party leaders.

It is evident that efforts at merging them have been hitting issues like leadership, representation on the national council, prestige and police-guards, all of which are considered by the party bosses as more important than the smooth functioning of the state. But it is irrational for parties that occupy the same political space – the extreme right – with identical views on the Cyprus problem not to unite their forces. I refer, of course, to EDEK, the Citizens Alliance, Solidarity Movement and the Greens. We can conclude that this abundance of parties is not a symptom of the strengthening of pluralism.

A party which in my opinion a small country like Cyprus does not need is the Greens. By its nature, it can never become a big party with broader objectives while the leader of the movement could have promoted ecological issues much more successfully as a member of a big party, that would, occasionally at least, be in power. Of course, in such a case the leader’s presence in the media would have been very limited, if not minimal, and he would not be able to fire broadsides against everyone and on every issue under the sun.

If Giorgos Perdikis loved ecology more than the leadership of a (midget) party he would have felt obliged to join a powerful party a long time ago.

Certainly, the biggest surprise of the parliamentary elections was the entry into the House of the neo-Nazi ELAM (national popular front) which, as ELAMites admit, is a sister party of Greece’s Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn). After all, the initial intention of ELAM was to be registered as Chrysi Avgi (Cyprus Branch) but the interior ministry rejected this name and it was forced to change it to ELAM.

Democratically minded citizens are fearful of the fact that ELAM is not an extreme right-wing party that operates within the democratic framework, but a neo-Nazi party which has as its aim the elimination of democracy through lawful means.

Worried citizens refer to Germany where in the election of 1924 the Nazis secured just three per cent of the vote for the Reichstag. In the elections of 1932 the Nazis won 33 per cent of the vote (an increase of 1,100 per cent) and their party came first. In January 1933 Hitler was appointed Chancellor, head of the German government, and this led to the abolition of democracy in Germany before the Second World War. It was a feat for which the world paid very dearly. As the great historian Arnold Toynbee, said referring to the election victory of Hitler’s Nazis, it was an accomplishment of the vile, with the vile, for the vile. Yet this vile man is praised obsequiously, at least by Golden Dawn.

One school of thought argues that in such situations a government is obliged to protect democratic institutions. The paradox is that the government would have to use undemocratic methods to defend democracy. This was the dilemma of the Weimar Republic. If it had displayed decisiveness and outlawed the Nazi party before it became too big, it is possible the destruction and suffering caused by World War II may have been avoided.

There is though the other school of thought which argues that the state cannot, citing threats to democracy that are sometimes difficult to prove, outlaw any party when it is established lawfully and operates within the boundaries of the law.

In addition to this, there is the prospect that a party outlawed for the ideology it embraced could resort to violence and terrorism. The certain thing is that the supporters of ELAM need our help to disengage from the demagoguery of the Golden Dawn leader with his appalling mix of messianism and chauvinism, greater Greece aspiration and intolerance, hypocritical moralising and intimidation.

Another thing that causes surprise is that despite the abundance of parties, a genuine social democratic party is missing from the Cyprus political scene. In Europe these parties (for example the Labour Party in Britain, the SPD in Germany) are supported by sections of the educated, cosmopolitan middle classes and the elites of the big cities as well as by traditionally moderate, older voters. And something particularly significant: European social democracy has adopted the neo-liberal ideology combined with the social welfare of former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, something rejected by all our parties, apart from DISY. Perhaps this is why a social democratic party cannot take root in Cyprus.

George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist

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