Cyprus: Presidential election, a victory for peace

On Sunday Feb. 24 the second round of the presidential election for the island nation of Cyprus concluded with the election of Dimitris Christofias, leader of the Progressive Party of the Working People of Cyprus (AKEL). AKEL is essentially the Communist Party of Cyprus.

During the campaign Christofias and AKEL pledged to work for a peaceful resolution of the 'Cyprus problem' – the illegal occupation of the northern third of the country by Turkey. Keeping this pledge, although he does not formally assume office until Feb. 28, Christofias immediately talked by telephone with Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat to initiate a dialogue towards that end. Christofias and Talat are scheduled to meet face to face within days.

President-elect Christofias defeated Ioannis Kassoulides of the rightwing DISY party. Tassos Papadopoulos, the incumbent president and representative of the center DIKO party, was eliminated in the first round. The second round was necessary because no single candidate won more then the Constitutionally-mandated 50 percent in the first round.

Although the first round ended with the elimination of Papadopoulos, the vote tallies of the three front-runners were very close: 33.5 percent for Kassoulides, 33.3 percent for Christofias and 31.8 percent for Papadopoulos. Christofias received a big boost when, following the defeat of Papadopoulos, the DIKO party backed him for the runoff. In the end, enough of the DIKO voters heeded their party’s endorsement and cast crucial votes for Christofias giving him a comfortable margin of victory.

The campaign of DISY and Kassoulides, who had been promoting a moderate line in the first round, took a rightward and nationalistic turn in the last days before the runoff. Also, the island nation's Orthodox Archbishop came out in support of DISY, and, reportedly, local Orthodox priests campaigned for the rightist candidate. These were ominous signs militating against unity between Cypriots of Greek and Turkish background and a peaceful resolution of the “Cyprus problem.”

The last days of the campaign were marked by crude and vicious red baiting. It was reported that Cypriots received anonymous text messages on their cell phones warning them to “be careful who [they] vote for” and that they “could end up with a Stalinist leader and the ruble instead of the euro.”

Politicians of all stripes denounced this campaign, and it’s not at all clear that such red-baiting is a wise tactic in a country like Cyprus. AKEL has wide public support and now constitutes the single largest parliamentary block. AKEL members have also been elected as the mayors of most of Cyprus’s major cities.

In any event, Christofias and AKEL overcame the anti-Communist campaign and prevailed, with the final tallies giving him 53.37 percent of the vote. Following the announcement of the results Cypriots poured into the streets of the capital city of Nicosia waving flags, blowing horns and chanting AKEL, AKEL, AKEL. Interspersed with white and gold Cyprus flags were banners of Che Guevera and of the AKEL party.

For more background on Cyprus, please see '.'