Greek Cypriots voted on Sunday (Feb 17) to elect a new president. Having 11 parties in the race, runoff elections have resulted in no victory for the first round. Nicos Anastasiades, the rightwing DISY party leader, won the majority of the votes with 45.4% but failed to get the 50% needed to avoid the second round of the elections. Stravros Malas, backed by the communist AKEL, came in two with 26.9%. Thus, the next round will witness the race of two leaders having the first two biggest supports in all.
The election has been closely watched by the international community with the concern of a probable re-eruption of the euro-zone crisis. The southern part of the island has in trouble with its economy, facing unemployment rate at around 15% which was at 5% two years ago. There are also heavy concerns that public debt would likely reach 140% of the country’s GDP. As of June, the winner of the elections will shoulder a difficult task of debt repayment of 1.6 billion euros.
Ex-president Demetris Christofias, who did not stand for re-election,has been criticized to be responsible for bad economic situation. However, Christofias has still rejected the whole responsibility and regarded Southern Cyprus as the victim of the crisis in the banking system instead.
Economy over politics
For the first time since the 1970s, the harsh years for the Cyprus problem, the election is about the economy and not the political commitments on Cyprus issue. In an uncertain atmosphere of the economic crisis, the electorate has given importance to their economic future. Their jobs, salaries and declining life standards are in consideration rather than long-lasting Cyprus issue.
It seems so that neither the negotiations in deadlock nor the exploratory drilling for oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean have been enough to divert attentions of the Greek Cypriots from severe economic situation.
Just to remind, it was the decision of drilling for oil and gas taken by Christofias that risked the ongoing negotiations under the auspices of the UN. This is why the Greek drilling effort got reactions from both Turkish Cyprus and Turkey, defined as “an example of irresponsibility”.It was an effort that created a dilemma detrimental to the negotiation process, casting a shadow on the Cyprus talks and signing the lack of trust against the sincerity of Christofias about going after a real solution for the issue.However, in 2008, when he first took the helm of presidency at Greek Cyprus administration, Christofias revitalized the hopes for a possible solution via signaling a moderate approach comparing his predecessor Papadopoulos. In time, nothing has changed, but the rhetoric.
Most probably, it was initially the Kosovo’s declaration of independence that frightened the Greek administration for a possible change in current situation in the island for the benefit of Turkish side. Then, the background of the change in rhetoric during is clear enough during Christofias presidency as well as the reasons of lack of trust-building steps for a foreseeable solution.
Much room for maneuver for a solution?
Currently, the frontrunner in Greek Cyprus election Nicos Anastasiades has the similar impact about the Cyprus issue as Christofias did. Mainly because Anastasiades was a supporter of the Annan Plan in 2004, which was rejected by the majority of Greek Cypriots. For some, it is a good sign for the benefit of revitalization the failed negotiations, considering his good relations with Europe as well.
In contrast, many have doubted he would have much room for maneuver even if Anastasiades had lobbied for the Annan Plan. His individual support for an applicable solution can not be enough without backing by his party. A large majority of his party DISY, above60%, voted the plan down in 2004. Also, it hardly seems to go beyond deep-seated Greek policy on the Cyprus issue.
Above all, since it is the Greek Cyprus sitting as an EU member on the negotiation table, it always ends upwith the“same illusion” indicating equal sides negotiating around the table (!)…
In short, it is too early to say anything hopeful for the negotiations ahead on long-lasting Cyprus issue.