Cyprus’s ruling conservatives took the lead in yesterday’s parliamentary elections, results showed, while a far-right party was close to winning a seat in the legislature for the first time.
With about 75% of the vote counted, the right-wing Democratic Rally party was ahead with 31% of the vote followed by Communist AKEL with 25.6%, according to the elections service of the interior ministry.
Although Cyprus has an executive system of government and the president is elected separately, the vote yesterday is a popularity gauge for President Nicos Anastasiades, whose term expires in 2018.
Anastasiades represents Greek Cypriots in talks with Turkish Cypriots to reunite the island that was split in a 1974 Turkish invasion triggered by a brief Greece-inspired coup.
Diplomats are cautiously optimistic that a solution could be in sight for the long-running conflict.
ELAM, a nationalist party of hardliners with affiliations to Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party, was gaining 3.78%.
If the trend persisted, it would give the party at least one seat in parliament, where the electoral threshold is 3.6%.
“For the first time, Cyprus will get nationalists in its parliament,” Golden Dawn leader Nikos Mihaloliakos told Greece’s parliament minutes after the exit poll results were released.
Yesterday’s election was also the first since Cyprus required an international bailout in 2013, partly because of the exposure its systemic banks had to a write-down of sovereign debt from Greece.
It introduced a ‘bail-in’ on clients deposits at one major bank and wound down a second, leaving thousands of disgruntled bank deposit holders.
The abstention rate in the election exceeded 30%, one of the highest in a national vote since the inception of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960.
The prospect of a high abstention rate was expected and officials during the day repeatedly appealed to eligible voters to exercise their democratic right.
“If this right is forfeited it gives others the right to decide for those abstaining ... if someone spurns that right, they shouldn’t complain the next day,” Anastasiades said.
By law, voting is compulsory but authorities have relaxed prosecutions in recent years.