Monday, February 18, 2008

Presidential elections in Cyprus

The whole world seems to know - already - that there will be Presidential elections in the USA later in this year. I wonder how many are aware that yesterday was the first round of Presidential elections for Cyprus. Of course, Cyprus is just a tiny country at the far end of the Mediterranean, but it's well-placed, near the borders of Europe, Asia and Africa, and is sometimes considered to be significant in world affairs.

These elections have not affected us in the slightest, at least so far. I think I saw one poster for one of the candidates (I've no idea which) but that's about all. It doesn't seem to be a main topic of conversation for most people. Since the voting was on Sunday, they didn't even have to close the schools for polling stations. I didn't even know that election day was yesterday until I saw an article on the BBC news site.

Politics in Cyprus is rather complex. To say the least. For one thing, it's tied in strongly with the Greek Orthodox Church (around 95% of people claim allegiance to it, although there is inevitably a lot of nominalism). Some priests tell their congregations how they should vote. They have significant influence over the politics of the island in general. For a clear (though lengthy) understanding of the influences in Cyprus politics in the past fifty years or so, see 'Postwar Nationalism in Cyprus'.

For yesterday's elections, there were several candidates, but it was predicted that only three of them would have significant percentages of the vote. That's exactly what happened. The BBC has a summary of the results. They really were remarkably close - each of the three, including the current President (Mr Papodopoulos) getting around a third of the vote.

So there will be another election next Sunday, which will be just between the top two - not including Mr Papodopoulos, who was slightly behind the others. If any of them had received at least 51% of the vote, he would have been the President outright with no need for a second election - but nobody thought that would happen.

The two remaining candidates appear to be extreme opposites, as far as party politics goes. Mr Kasoulides is a member of the right-wing DISY party, while Mr Christofias is the head of the Communist party. Not that Cyprus Communism bears much resemblance to the Marxism of some of the Eastern European countries a few years ago. What's odd is that both these men are keen to reunite Cyprus - and seem to have similar ideas of how to go about it. I've no idea what their other policies are - I don't suppose most of the population do, either. Reunification seems to be the one issue on their minds. The Europe Herald Tribune gives a little more information about the three men who were the main rivals yesterday.

Will life change if Cyprus gains either a Communist or a right-wing President? I doubt it. Most people here seem to be keen on Communism as a principle, capitalism as a practice, and Greek Orthodoxy as a tradition. Oddly enough, these three rather different ideologies seem to live reasonably comfortably alongside each other. But then, this IS Cyprus!

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