Ultra-nationalists look to exploit the anti-establishment mood over the ‘golden passport’ corruption scandal.
The far-right ELAM party and a centrist splinter group have made big gains in Cyprus’ parliamentary election as a sizeable chunk of supporters appeared to have turned their back on the top three parties amid voter disenchantment with traditional power centres.
With 100 percent of votes counted, ELAM on Sunday garnered 6.78 percent of the vote – a 3-percent increase from the previous election in 2016 – to edge out the socialist EDEK party by the razor-thin margin of about 200 votes.
The centrist DIPA – made up of key figures from the centre-right DIKO party which has traditionally been the third-biggest party – gained 6.1 percent of the vote.
The centre-right DISY emerged in first place with 27.77 percent of the vote, 5.4 percent more than second-place, communist-rooted AKEL.
But the parties respectively lost 2.9 percent and 3.3 percent of their support from the previous election.
“The result isn’t what we expected,” AKEL General-Secretary Andros Kyprianou told a party rally. “We respect it and we’ll examine it carefully to draw conclusions, but we can now say that we failed to convince (our supporters).”
Analyst Christoforos Christoforou said the results indicate a “very big failure” on the part of DISY and AKEL to rally more supporters by convincing them of the benefits of their policies.
A last-ditch appeal by the DISY leadership limited a projected 5 percent voter loss to 3 percent.
Christoforou said the real winners were ELAM with its strident anti-migration platform and hardline nationalist policies and DIPA whose top echelons still have connections to the centres of political power as former ministers and legislators.
He said that the high electoral threshold of 3.6 percent means that 15,000 voters who cast ballots for smaller parties who did not win any seats are left without a voice in parliament.
Opinion polls in the weeks preceding the vote indicated that DISY and AKEL would haemorrhage support as disappointed voters seek out alternatives among smaller parties.
The election will not affect the running of the government on the divided Mediterranean island nation, as executive power rests in the hands of the president, who is elected separately.
About 65.73 percent of nearly 558,000 eligible voters cast ballots for the 56 Greek Cypriot seats in parliament. Voter turnout was 1 percent less than the previous poll.
Among the key campaign issues were the country’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the hoped-for economic reboot as the country ramps up vaccinations.
Migration has also been an issue as the Cypriot government insists it has exceeded its limits and can no longer receive more migrants.
Smaller parties have appealed to voters to turn their backs on DISY, which they said is burdened by a legacy of corruption.
An independent investigation into Cyprus’ now-defunct investment-for-citizenship programme found that the government unlawfully granted passports to thousands of relatives of wealthy investors, some with shady pasts.
An Al Jazeera investigation found that several high-ranking Cypriot officials, politicians, lawyers and real estate developers were implicated in the scheme that allowed criminals to buy a European passport using the investment-for-citizenship programme.