Cyprus Mail

Local elections overshadowed by Cyprus talks and voter apathy, Limassol contest billed as mother of all battles’

Over 560,000 are registered to vote but apathy looms

By George Psyllides

GREEK Cypriots go to the polls today to vote for their local authorities in what could be the last municipal election in the Republic as people know it, as the leaders of the island’s divided communities are busy working towards reunification.

The election has been somewhat overshadowed since it takes place less than a month before crucial talks in Switzerland that could eventually lead to reunification.

But there was also a lot of talk concerning local authority reform, which the government pushed hard but opposition parties eventually foiled.

Initially the government had asked for the elections to be postponed, citing the discussion of the reform legislation.

Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos is pushing for reforms
Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos is pushing for reforms

In October, Ιnterior Minister Socratis Hasikos said the postponement had been deemed necessary because the procedure to approve legislation introducing local authority reforms was at an advanced stage.

The changes included reducing municipalities from 30 to 22 inside three years.

“It is absolutely necessary to extend the term of the councils elected in 2011, because how would it be possible to go to full term elections when halfway through some municipalities will be merged with others,” Hasikos said.

Seeing that the bill would not pass, Hasikos briefly toyed with the idea of limiting the term of officials elected in 2016 to two-and-a-half years instead of five.

To no avail.

Even so, there does not appear to be much interest from the public, despite the direct impact that local elections have on people’s lives.

Political analyst Christophoros Christophorou does not think the Cyprus problem was affecting the elections.

Since the first local elections in 1986, it has been shown that absenteeism was higher than in parliamentary and presidential elections.

And this was not even a Cypriot phenomenon, rather, it has belatedly emerged in Cyprus, he said.

Christophorou said people consider national elections more important because that is where the future course of a country was decided.

“Need to look at it in relation with the national elections. What are the powers of the elected authority?”

Overall, absenteeism is growing steadily in Cyprus, more so when it comes to local elections.

It used to be that it was slightly higher than general elections; in 2006 it was higher, and in 2011 it doubled.

From an average of 17 per cent in 2006, abstention shot up to 35.7 per cent in 2011, the last local elections.

“It is a huge leap,” Christophorou said.

Considering that in the last parliamentary elections, in May this year, around 33 per cent of the voters stayed away, then it probably would not be farfetched to expect that half the electorate will not exercise their voting right on Sunday.

Based on the current trends, it seemed certain that Cyprus would see high abstention rates on a regular basis.

Probably the main reason is that those primarily responsible for this, political parties, have done next to nothing to win back alienated voters.

There is disappointment with politicians, especially after the 2013 debacle, and there does not appear to be any real effort to change this.

People were promised a lot of things and their expectations were dashed. Cyprus lies low in implementing European standards and the absorption of EU funds.

There was off course the issue of corruption.

The major scandals that saw public light in the past several years concerned local authorities. One mayor is already in jail while another is on trial for similar offences – taking kickbacks.

There is also the auditor-general’s report, which revealed mismanagement and waste of taxpayer money.

Nicosia, for instance, which is one of the biggest municipalities in Cyprus, and had the highest development budget in 2015 and the second highest the previous year, managed only to spend a fraction.

Out of €47m in 2015, the municipality spend €12.4m, or 26 per cent, and €8.3m of €27m in 2014, around 30 per cent.

Most municipalities face severe financial and cashflow problems.

In his report for 2015, Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides said it would have been worse without the state grants to local authorities, which many times reached 40 per cent of their revenues.

“Considering the reduction in state grants, due to the restrictions forced by the current state of public finances, it is expected that the municipalities’ financial condition will deteriorate further,” the auditor said.

“Politicians must provide solutions to problems, implement laws, and leave no room for scandals,” Christophorou said.

Local authorities need drastic reform, which included a serious reduction in their number.


Limassol contest billed as the ‘mother of all battles’

THE mayoral election in Limassol has been billed the mother of all battles as incumbent Andreas Christou goes head-to-head with former Edek MP Nicos Nicolaides.

Limassol Mayor Andreas Christou
Limassol Mayor Andreas Christou

Christou is backed by Akel, Diko, and Edek while Nicolaides – a prominent member of Edek gone rogue – is backed by Disy, and the Green party.

The respective background of the two candidates makes this an interesting bout.

Christou, who initially planned not to run for a third term, had second thoughts reportedly after pressure from his party, main opposition Akel. He is considered a success story, though some cracks appeared during the election campaign.

Nicolaides announced his independent candidacy in September after a row with Edek leader Marinos Sizopoulos, who had decided to run last May for the seat Nicolaides won in the 2011 parliamentary elections in Limassol.

Nicos Nicolaides
Nicos Nicolaides

Disy’s decision to back Nicolaides irked five party members, including former MPs Andreas Michaelides and Andreas Themistocleous, who wanted to be considered as candidates.

They begrudgingly acquiesced though a defeat would almost certainly be blamed on party leader Averof Neophytou.

Sizopoulos was also angered by Disy’s support for Nicolaides, describing the move as an intervention into Edek’s internal affairs.

A good part of the campaign was spent on an auditor-general letter, which alluded to possible conflict of interest or impropriety involving Christou.

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