Cyprus voters went to the polls Sunday for parliamentary elections amid simmering public anger over the “golden passports” corruption scandal on the Mediterranean island.
More than 10 political parties or formations are seeking 56 seats in a vote that will likely not produce an absolute majority. Elections are held every five years, and political parties are anxious to avoid a repeat of 2016 when one in three registered voters abstained.
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Some 558,000 people are eligible to vote, and polling stations close at 15:00 GMT.
Casting his ballot, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades urged citizens to “abandon the couch” and vote so they won’t “give others the right to decide for them”.
Among the parties projected to make gains is the far-right ELAM party, whose strong showing in the previous election five years ago surprised many.
Ultra-nationalists looking to exploit the anti-establishment mood have played on concerns over migration, another hot-button issue for the European Union’s most easterly member state.
As usual, the election will be limited to government-held areas, excluding the northern third of the island where a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state holds sway.
“There is a very unhappy electorate fed up with the political elite and parliament,” said Hubert Faustmann, professor of history and political science at the University of Nicosia.
“People are fed up with corruption in public life.”
Last November, Cyprus dropped its controversial passport-for-investment scheme after Al Jazeera aired a documentary showing reporters posing as fixers for a Chinese businessman seeking a Cyprus passport despite having a criminal record.
Parliament was at the centre of the furore after speaker Demetris Syllouris and an opposition MP were secretly filmed allegedly trying to facilitate the passport for the fugitive investor.
They later resigned, although both insisted they were innocent of any wrongdoing.
The other issue is migration as Cyprus has the highest per capita number of first-time asylum seekers in the 27-member bloc, according to the Eurostat statistics agency.
The government has said Cyprus is in a “state of emergency” because of migrant streams from war-torn Syria and elsewhere.
Unusually for Cyprus, the decades-old division between the island’s Greek and Turkish communities has played little part in this year’s election campaign.
The last round of UN-backed reunification talks collapsed in acrimony in 2017 and a UN summit in Geneva last month failed to reach an agreement on resuming talks.
The conservative DISY party is expected to remain the largest in parliament but again without a majority, forcing President Nicos Anastasiades to continue to rule through a minority government.
Cyprus has an executive system of government with the president elected separately, but the vote will gauge the popularity of Anastasiades whose term expires in 2023.