THERE will be 72 candidates contesting the six seats allocated to Cyprus in next Sunday’s elections for the European Parliament. There are 13 parties or groups and three individuals standing independently. With Disy, Akel and Diko almost certain to win the five seats the rest of the candidates will in effect be fighting for a single seat, which pollsters predict would go to either Edek or Elam. We can only assume the remaining eight parties or groups are standing for the fun of it. There is nothing wrong with that.
The reality is that six Cypriot MEPs, distributed among the different party groupings will not have much of an impact in a 751-member parliament, despite what the candidates have been saying in this low-key, low-interest election campaign. Hearing candidates claiming they would use the EU to put pressure on Turkey and make Ankara pay a high cost for its continuing occupation is amusingly predictable, but also understandable considering there is not much else for them to say. Audiences are only interested in EU matters in as far as they could affect Cyprus.
It is not only in here that domestic issues dominate the campaign for European Parliament elections. “At any EU election meeting in any member state, the discussion will be 90 per cent national issues and 10 per cent how the EU must change to better serve national interests,” a member of the pro-European group Volt, told The Guardian newspaper earlier this week. This reflects the failure of the EU to develop a European political scene with its own issues and parties representing the different trends, something that is unlikely to change any time soon.
Cyprus parties and candidates are merely following a Europe-wide trend in discussing how they will use the EU to secure an advantage in the Cyprus problem and to stop Turkey violating the Cypriot EEZ, even if what they are saying is, to put it mildly, is wishful thinking. But this story that our MEPs can influence decisions or win victories for Cyprus at the European parliament has been playing for a long time.
When she was elected to the Cyprus parliament in 2016, Solidarity leader and MEP Dr Eleni Theocharous decided she would not give up her seat at the European Parliament, “mainly because the battle of Cyprus will take place there in the next year and of course our voice must be heard.” The “battle of Cyprus” took place only in Dr Theocharous’ fertile imagination, but she must expect another battle to unfold in the coming years, because she is standing again, this time as a Diko candidate.
Few people take this vacuous rhetoric resorted to by candidates seriously, which is one reason why European elections usually record a low voter turn-out. People are interested in what they see as directly affecting their lives and they feel that what happens in the European Parliament does not. In an Antenna TV opinion poll presented on Friday night, the lowest interest of respondents, asked to say how interested they were in six topics, was the EU. It ranked below, Gesy, the economy, energy, the Cyprus problem and government.
Opinion polls offer confirmation of the view that voters think locally in European elections and voting patterns remain the same. Share of the vote may change slightly, but all polls indicate that most people will be voting in the same way they voted in the parliamentary elections of 2016, with Disy in the lead, followed by Akel and Diko, because in Cyprus there are no major electoral shifts as is the case in other countries. Party loyalty is tribal and the phenomenon of floating voters usually manifests itself in presidential rather than parliamentary elections.
It would be interesting to see how the all Turkish Cypriot grouping, Yiasemi (Jasmine), that is headed by Afrika publisher Sener Levent will fare next Sunday. According to opinion polls it is forecasted to take between 0.5 and 1 per cent of the vote. There is also a Turkish Cypriot candidate on the Akel ticket, a first in European elections. His inclusion has livened up the campaign as it sparked a rather nasty row with Disy, which accused the candidate of telling things to his Turkish Cypriot audiences that showed a lack of respect for the Cyprus Republic.
This was as lively as the election campaign became, before reverting to the nobler issue of how candidates, if elected, would use the EU to raise the cost for Turkey’s occupation and its incursions into the Cypriot EEZ.