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First-ever Cyprus elections in 1959 were fractious and rushed

Makarios returns from exile in March 1959. The first elections were held in December
Makarios returns from exile in March 1959. The first elections were held in December

But the result was never in doubt

The first-ever presidential elections in Cyprus in 1959 were by all accounts a rushed, tumultuous affair – though their legitimacy or result never questioned. They swept Archbishop Makarios III to power with a whopping two-thirds of the valid ballots cast, leading to the formation of the first government of the newly established Republic of Cyprus.

Interesting factoid: Cyprus authorities have never officially published the election results. On the day of the vote – December 13, 1959 – authorities merely issued a press release with the general result – 66.82 per cent for Makarios, 33.18 per cent for his sole rival Ioannis Clerides. No breakdown by district or polling station.

It was only decades later that the official election scorecard came to light – and the source was not from Cyprus, but from the United States.

What happened, explains political analyst Christoforos Christoforou, is that years later the Press and Information Office (PIO) sent a researcher to the United States to look at the US National Archives. There, the researcher found a message sent by the US Consul in Cyprus to the State Department in Washington DC in late December of 1959.

In the message, the US Consul relayed the official elections report drawn up by Cypriot authorities – but which the latter never published in Cyprus itself. And the kicker – that report had been prepared by the Cypriot Chief Returning Officer and sent to the US Consul.

Based on this data made available by the PIO, Christoforou has painstakingly compiled an electoral map for 1959, available on his website eklektor.org. The map can be viewed here.

Another data point – it was suggested at the time that voting machines be shipped over from the US state of Virginia, to be used to validate ballots.

The elections took place on December 13. Makarios had the backing of Eoka. His opponent Clerides was a member of the Democratic Union, and was also supported by Akel.

Makarios received 144,501 votes (66.82 per cent), with Clerides trailing behind with 71,753 votes (33.18 per cent). Voter turnout stood at 91.2 per cent. Makarios did not take office until August 16, 1960.

A separate election for vice president was held. Fazıl Kuçuk was the only candidate, and was elected unopposed.

The elections featured a two-round system; if no candidate received over 50 per cent of the vote in the first round, a second round would be held between the top two candidates. The constitution required the president of Cyprus to be a Greek Cypriot and the vice-president to be a Turkish Cypriot. Greek Cypriots elected the president and Turkish Cypriots elected the vice-president.

And the 1959 elections featured universal suffrage.

Here’s how the BBC covered the event at the time:

“Archbishop Makarios has been elected the first president of the future Cyprus Republic. Tonight thousands of his supporters have gathered in Metaxas Square, Nicosia, to celebrate his historic victory, honking horns and letting off fireworks. The final result only became clear at 2000 hours local time.”

The BBC went on: “In his first public statement since being declared president, Archbishop Makarios has called on Greeks and Turks to co-operate ‘in a spirit of sincerity, absolute respect for each other’s rights and real understanding of communal interests…’

“It has been a remarkable turnaround for the Archbishop, who three-and-a-half years ago was deported to the Seychelles by the British authorities for his refusal to renounce the violent campaign by Eoka terrorists to rid the island of its colonial rulers. He returned to Cyprus in March to a tumultuous welcome after agreeing to give up his campaign for enosis, or union with Greece, in return for Cyprus’s independence.”

Intriguingly, Glafcos Clerides, son of the challenger, publicly disavowed his father and instead joined the Makarios camp. For that, he was excoriated by traditionalists who cited the fifth commandment: “Honour thy father and thy mother.” Clerides hit back with an adage from ancient Greece: “The homeland is more honourable, more humble and holier than one’s father, mother or ancestors.”

Akel was still outlawed as a political organisation. Over the objections of the Americans, who wanted to keep things that way, Britain decided to lift the ban on Akel on December 4 – less than 10 days before the elections and right after the formal submission of candidacies.

Despite the ban on Akel, says Christoforou, the communist party had been able to mount an election campaign by proxy – through the PEO trade union and other affiliates.

Still, it was a short, rollercoaster ride of an election campaign, with harsh words traded between the two camps.

Makarios announced he would not wage a campaign – so the task fell to the Patriotic Front. Electioneering mainly consisted of visits to localities and public gatherings in communities and towns.

As for the press, Akel’s mouthpiece Haravghi, along with Ethniki newspaper, stumped for Clerides. The rest of the papers fell behind Makarios.

Inevitably, the core theme of the campaign revolved around the London-Zurich agreements on the independence of Cyprus, the granting of bases to the British, and the treaties of Guarantee and Alliance.

Clerides and Akel also sought to drive home the message about Makarios’ style of governance, accusing the archbishop of possessing an authoritarian streak and of carrying water for the elites rather than standing for the common people.

In turn, Makarios supporters accused Clerides of collaborating with the British during the Eoka struggle.

Prior to the vote, a transitional committee/government had been established. It consisted of seven Greek Cypriot ministers and three Turkish Cypriot ministers.

This transitional phase lasted until August 16 of 1960 – the date of declaration of the independent Republic of Cyprus, on the basis of the 1959 London-Zurich agreements negotiated by Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

The second presidential elections were scheduled for 1965. But they were postponed due to the intercommunal troubles of 1963/1964. Parliament voted for an extension to Makarios’ term by three more years. The second elections therefore took place in 1968.

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