British permanent residents of Cyprus, understandably, were angered by the Cyprus government’s decision to take away their voting rights after Britain left the EU. Those whose names were on the election register received a letter from the authorities informing them that as third country nationals their name had been deleted from the electoral roll and their electoral card cancelled.
In yet another twist, Britons who served as community councilors can no longer attend council meetings, the district office informing community leaders that Britons can no longer be invited to these meetings. In other words, they no longer have a right to participate in the decision-making of the community in which they are living.
This is a bad decision as it has disenfranchised people who have been part of communities for decades and is completely at odds with the principle of local democracy. Areti Pieridou, the community leader of Tala village in Paphos, home to a large number of Britons, told the Sunday Mail the district office’s decision was “unfair” as it removed Britons from the council. “It is very disappointing and will mean that now 50 per cent of the residents in Tala are not represented and cannot participate in administrative procedures, which is wrong,” said Pieridou.
Before Brexit, Britons living in Cyprus had the right to vote in local elections and elections for the European Parliament. While it is correct that they should not vote in European Parliament elections any longer, no longer being EU citizens, there is no political justification for depriving them voting or standing in local government elections. Someone who has been living in a community for 10 or 20 years has every right to vote in local elections, the outcome of which directly affects their life; and they should have the right to stand because local democracy needs to be representative.
This democratic right should not be restricted to Britons, but all third country nationals that have made Cyprus their home, living here for a certain number of years (to be set by the authorities), working or in retirement, and paying taxes to the Republic. In fact, the government that is offering a host of incentives to encourage third country nationals to move their businesses to Cyprus should consider that the right to vote in local elections could make these foreigners feel they belong.
When a government has a policy of attracting foreign nationals to the country, either to work and contribute the GDP or to retire and spend their pensions here, it should also take actions to make them feel they belong and have a say. This will strengthen their ties to the country, which is what a government should want.
Hopefully, the reaction of the British will make the government reconsider its decision and review it with a more open-minded and far-sighted attitude.