While definitely striking, the evisceration of the so-called centrist parties at the ballot last week should not be seen in isolation but rather as part of a wider malaise and alienation from politics. In effect, say analysts, the chickens have come home to roost – the European Parliament elections served as a release valve for the large swathe of the disaffected, a subset of the electorate that has been steadily growing for years.

Summing it up for the three centrist parties – Diko, Edek and Dipa – their combined strength was almost halved compared to the 2019 elections for MEP. This time around they pooled 16.9 per cent of the popular vote, whereas five years ago they had garnered 28.2 per cent. A bloodbath, no doubt about it.

So was this the final nail in the coffin for the centrists? Perhaps that’s taking it too far, opines electoral analyst Vasilis Protopapas:

“The very low numbers doesn’t mean they are ‘dead’. But certainly they’re in free fall. If you want a soundbite, you could say they’re on a ventilator.”

He adds: “Look, under the watch of Nicolas Papadopoulos, Diko’s numbers have shrunk in four consecutive elections. It’s going from bad to worse.”

But why? The consensus converges on that these parties only ever amounted to vehicles for the personal ambitions of their respective leaders. Empty vessels, Protopapas calls them. They have no strong positions, bending with the wind as the occasion demands – save for the Cyprus problem, which isn’t exactly a hot-button issue these days.

And Dipa, for instance, is merely a splinter group from Diko, serving the political aspirations of its leader Marios Garoyian.

“It’s like these parties have been squeezed dry…they’ve got nothing left to offer.”

And they might not be obsolete yet, but their future looks bleak, notes Protopapas. For one thing, after their dismal performance at the ballot last weekend, they’ve lost their leverage with President Nikos Christodoulides, whom they had backed for the presidency only last year.

Stavros Tombazos, professor of political science at the University of Cyprus, agrees.

“You could see it as a defeat for the government camp. The centrists are indeed decaying,” he offers.

“Speaking of, what centrist parties? Why even call them that? They’re effectively right wing.”

But both commentators hasten to stress that the political ennui manifests well beyond these three parties.

Protopapas breaks it down:

“The big picture is that the systemic parties [he means Disy, Akel, Diko and Edek] from approximately 1980 to 2010 would get 90 per cent of the votes. They’ve been shrinking ever since. And here we are in 2024, and they managed only 60 per cent between them. A paradigm shift.”

Parties have been taking a hit from the on-off economic crisis since 2011/2012.

“We see scorn for parties in general. People are frustrated, they’ve tried more or less all the parties – and they all disappointed. This cumulative effect translates into disaffection.

“Nowadays almost half the electorate don’t bother to vote. The rest show their discontent either by voting for Elam, and now for Fidias Panayiotou.”

Panayiotou being the 24-year-old YouTuber who stunned everyone, making headlines internationally, by running as an independent and grabbing 19.4 per cent of the vote.

The ‘Panayiotou phenomenon’ is one we should pay a lot of attention to, says Protopapas.

“Fidias drew about a third of his supporters from new voters or people already registered but who were voting for the first time. It just shows how the political landscape is far more fluid now. That’s anathema to the systemic parties. This fluidity is like quicksand for them.”

As for Tombazos, he suspects that Panayiotou – which some patronizingly refer to as ‘the kid’ – tapped into this apolitical sentiment. One can criticise the young man for his lack of ideas or proposals, but at the same time his ‘anti-establishment’ message – leaving it to everyone to define in their own head what that is – may have been a calculated, strategic play. By not committing to particulars, he displeases no one.

And as the professor notes, this kind of protest vote – albeit lacking content – resonates with a cross-section of the public.

“These days there are no major stakes in the world of politics. That doesn’t mean that serious issues don’t exist. For instance, a major, real issue is people’s declining purchasing power, the drop in living standards. But politics is real-time intervention in public affairs. Except we no longer see that, no action. So people ask, why bother voting? Or they go vote just for kicks. And so many went and cast their ballot for Fidias.”

Also, ideology no longer plays a big role. To illustrate this, Tombazos points out how politicians effortlessly jump from one party to another.

“It’s like the football transfer market. Marios Pelekanos goes from Disy to Elam, Anna Theologou switches from the Citizens Alliance to Akel. All this creates an ambience where no one believes in something…and so anything goes. It is any wonder that this leads to confusion and contempt for politics?”

Coming back to the centrist parties and their troubles, an article in Phileleftheros last Friday (June 14) suggested that murmurs are being heard about a merger of the three. For the moment, this brainstorming is confined to circles outside official party structures. And even if it did materialise – which is a long shot – the parties would first need to take stock of the election outcome. So far, and almost a week after the vote, only Diko has convened a meeting.

At any rate, even if a merger were to happen, it would likely amount to but a quick fix – the shifting lay of the land does not bode well for any of the parties, let alone the centrists.