A far-right party linked to Greece’s late neo-Nazi Golden Dawn appears to have doubled its support as widespread disaffection over corruption scandals dominated elections for a new parliament in Cyprus on Sunday.
The vote, a key indicator of public opinion ahead of the presidential elections, was contested by 659 candidates from a record 15 political groups and formations as anger reigns among Greek Cypriots shocked by revelations that have emerged of embezzlement in the highest spheres of power.
“Corruption has led to unprecedented alienation of voters,” said Christophoros Christophorou, an analyst specializing in electoral behavior. “The four main parties are on track to record a further decline in support with a fragmentation of the political landscape never seen before.”
Voter turnout was low by mid-afternoon, a sign of the apathy that many believe may eventually prevail.
An exit poll released by state television suggested that the far-right National Popular Front (Elam) won 5-7% of the vote, almost doubling its support compared to 2016, when it elected for the first time two deputies in the 56-member parliament.
The projected outcome would mark a clear victory for a party whose now-banned Golden Dawn membership has done little to weaken its appeal to a nationalist-minded constituency also enraged by reports of wrongdoing among traditional politicians.
In power since 2013, the administration of President Nicos Anastasiades has been hit hard by allegations of corruption linked mainly to a controversial cash-for-passport program that helped transform the seaside town of Limassol into gargantuan apartment buildings built in the sole purpose of attracting investors. .
In a rare manifestation of public disgrace that did not go unnoticed by Turkish Cypriots in the separatist north of the island, Greek Cypriots staged mass protests to deplore corruption and demand a solution to the division of Cyprus . The 74-year-old president has firmly rejected any accusation of wrongdoing.
According to the exit poll, the Right Democratic Rally of Anastasiade is expected to attract between 24% and 28% of the vote, followed by the Left Progressive Workers’ Party (AKEL), with a vote of 23% to 27%. The survey was based on 75% of the 3,200 exit survey respondents.
“Politically, we have become deeply polarized, with young people clearly not willing to put up with the corrupt practices of the past,” said Nicos Trimikliniotis, professor of sociology at the University of Nicosia.
Trimikliniotis said Elam’s rise to power was a testament to the tolerance accorded to extremists by an administration that often needed party support to pass legislation.
“By allowing neo-Nazi Elam to operate as a reserve force, the government has helped to undermine the democratic fabric of society and trust in institutions,” he said. “Elam has played a destructive role in shifting rhetoric to the right and allowing public discourse to become more racist and anti-immigrant at a time when more and more asylum seekers are arriving in Cyprus.
The party is led by Christos Christou, a 40-year-old former bouncer who previously lived in Athens, where he was a member of Golden Dawn and had close ties to its now-imprisoned leader Nikos Michaloliakos. Unlike the mainland Greek group, however, whose entire leadership was jailed after being tried as a criminal organization last year, Elam has not been accused of attacking migrants or adopting violent tactics. blinded.
Small parties – many of which are running for the first time – should benefit from the high levels of discontent and protest votes that the disillusioned electorate is expected to cast. Exit polls suggest the Green Party, which features a diverse group of mostly young candidates who support the island’s reunification, would win 4-6% of the vote, up from 2016.
Anastasiades has been accused of missing the opportunity to seek a peace deal when pro-solution Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci was in power. The moderate was ousted by a hardline supporter last year.
With so many candidates running, analysts predicted the outcome would be so scattered that parliament could ultimately remain unchanged even if AKEL became the biggest political force.
“There is definitely a trend for change,” said Hubert Faustmann, professor of history and politics at the University of Nicosia. “Much of the electorate is unhappy but the protest vote is fragmented and with high abstention rates and no unifying figure that can attract it, the makeup of the legislature may end up looking alike. “