A far-right party with links to Greece’s defunct neo-Nazi Golden Dawn has doubled its support in Cyprus after widespread disaffection over corruption scandals dominated elections for a new parliament on Sunday.
The National Popular Front (Elam) garnered 6.8% of the vote, narrowly replacing the Movement of Social Democrats (Edek) as the fourth biggest political force in the island’s Greek Cypriot party system for the first time in 45 years.
“A neo-Nazi party is the clear winner of today’s election, securing two more seats in the 56-member house,” said Christophoros Christophorou, an analyst specialising in electoral behaviour. “It has benefited from a xenophobic climate exacerbated by the high rate of arrivals of undocumented migrants and a government that has often adopted its own racist narrative.”
The EU’s most easterly member state, Cyprus has the highest per capita number of first-time asylum seekers in the 27-member bloc.
The vote had been contested by 659 candidates from a record 15 political groups as anger mounted among Greek Cypriots over revelations of malpractice in the highest echelons of power.
“Corruption has led to an unprecedented alienation of voters,” Christophorou added. “Fifteen percent of the electorate will not be represented because they voted for smaller parties that failed to cross the threshold and enter parliament.”
At 66%, voter turnout was also low, a sign of the apathy that many had predicted would also prevail as a result of disillusionment with mainstream parties.
Elam’s showing marked a clear victory for a party whose affiliation with the now outlawed Golden Dawn had done little to dent its appeal for a nationalist-minded constituency also enraged by reports of corruption among elected officials.
In power since 2013, President Nicos Anastasiades’ administration has been badly hit by allegations of corruption linked mostly to a controversial cash-for-passports scheme that has helped transform the seashore city of Limassol with gargantuan apartment blocks built with the sole purpose of luring investors.
In a rare display of public opprobrium that has not gone unnoticed by Turkish Cypriots in the island’s breakaway north, Greek Cypriots have held mass demonstrations to deplore corruption and demand a solution to Cyprus’s division. The 74-year-old president has robustly rejected any accusations of wrongdoing.
With almost 100% of the vote counted, Anastasiades’ rightwing Democratic Rally (DYSI) clinched 27.8% of the vote, followed by the leftwing Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL), polling at 22.3%; the Democratic party (Diko) at 11.3%; and Edek at 6.7%. Democratic Front (DIPA), a group of Diko dissidents, also managed to enter the house after winning 6.1% of the vote.
The Green party, which had been predicted to improve its performance, won 4.4% of the vote, a drop of 0.4 percentage points on 2016.
Elam’s ability to emerge as an anti-establishment force despite Cyprus’s mainstream DYSI and AKEL parties retaining their position as the island’s two largest political groups is likely to make the quest to end the country’s division harder.
The nationalists reject any notion of reuniting Cyprus – split along ethnic lines since a coup aimed at union with Greece prompted Turkey to invade in 1974 – as a bizonal, bicommunal federation, the position long held by the Greek Cypriot side.
Anastasiades has also faced criticism from those who want a settlement, with many accusing him of missing the opportunity to come to an agreement when the pro-solution Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı was in power. The moderate was ousted by a hardliner last year who may well exploit Sunday’s electoral result to press the case for a two-state solution.
Nicos Trimikliniotis, professor of sociology at the University of Nicosia, said Elam’s rise was testimony to the tolerance the extremists had been granted by an administration that often needed the party’s support to pass legislation.
“By allowing the neo-Nazi Elam to operate as a reserve force, the government has helped undermine the democratic fabric of society and trust in institutions,” he said. “Elam has played a destructive role in shifting the rhetoric more to the right and enabling public discourse to become more racist and anti-immigrant at a time when ever more asylum seekers are arriving on 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 chief, Nikos Michaloliakos. Unlike the mainland Greek group, however, whose entire leadership was jailed after it was judged to be a criminal organisation last year, Elam has not been accused of attacking migrants or embracing tactics of blind violence.