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Republic of Cyprus - Politics and Government

Since 1974, Cyprus has been divided de facto into the government-controlled two-thirds of the island and the Turkish Cypriot-administered one-third. The Government of the Republic of Cyprus has continued to be the only internationally recognized authority; in practice, its authority extends only to the government-controlled area.

The 1960 Cypriot constitution provided for a presidential system of government with independent executive, legislative, and judicial branches, as well as a complex system of checks and balances, including a weighted power-sharing ratio designed to protect the interests of the Turkish Cypriots. The executive, for example, was headed by a Greek Cypriot president and a Turkish Cypriot vice president, elected by their respective communities for 5-year terms, and each possessing a right of veto over certain types of legislation and executive decisions. The Greek Cypriot-controlled Republic of Cyprus retains most elements of the presidential system of government expressed in the constitution, although it has cited the Turkish Cypriots' "withdrawal from government" and the "law of necessity" to enact structural changes that allow "effective governance."

Major political parties include the Greek Cypriots--Progressive Party of Working People or Anorthotikon Komma Ergazomenou Laou--AKEL (communist); Democratic Party or Dimokratikon Komma--DIKO (center); Democratic Rally or Dimokratikos Synagermos--DISY (center-right); Social Democrats Movement or Kinisi Socialdemocraton--EDEK (socialist); United Democrats or Enomeni Dimokrates--ED (center-left). Turkish Cypriots--National Unity Party or Ulusal Birlik Partisi--UBP (right); Democrat Party or Demokrat Partisi--DP (center-right); Republican Turkish Party or Cumhuriyetci Turk Partisi--CTP (center-left); Freedom and Reform Party or Free Party--Ozgurluk ve Reform Partisi--OP (center-right); Communal Democracy Party or Toplumcu Demokrasi Partisi--TDP (left).

Historically, none of the Greek Cypriot parties has been able to elect a president by itself or dominate the 56-seat House of Representatives. The 165,000 Greek Cypriot refugees from the area now administered by Turkish Cypriots are a potent political force, along with the independent Orthodox Church of Cyprus, which has some influence in secular as well as religious matters.

In Cyprus, all interests and all forms of expression are seen as inherently political. Leftists and right-wingers have their own coffee shops and football clubs. The same holds true for labor unions, which are far and away the largest civil society organizations in Cyprus. The parties look at civil society organizations as potential competitors for the affections and loyalties of their voters. The communal violence of the 1960s and the coup/invasion of 1974 are still fresh in the Cypriot psyche and have shaped the first post-war generation in such a way that politics -- and political parties -- are still the primary and dominant form of civic organization. Civil society in Cyprus is fragmented, weak and riven by personal rivalries.

Greek Cypriot "human rights" organizations -- and they are legion -- are concerned almost exclusively with the return of property lost by Greek Cypriots in 1974. The parallel plight of Turkish Cypriots is of little interest to them. The struggle for democracy in Burma or the suffering of refugees in Darfur is utterly irrelevant. This was, at least in part, a function of government-funding practices that advantaged Cyprus-issue NGOs and a small, well-heeled private donor community that thinks inside "the Cyprus box."

The Cypriot media has been openly hostile to NGOs, particularly those that stray from the established government line. The television news and the largest newspapers reflexively toe the government line. Beginning in the fall of 2004, the Greek Cypriot media launched a scorched earth attack on U.S. bicommunal assistance, UNOPS and specific NGOs that had worked with UNOPS to implement bicommunal programs. The charge in the press -- presented without a single shred of evidence -- was that the United States had essentially paid Greek Cypriots to support the Annan Plan and that we had laundered "black money" through complicit NGOs.

At the time of Cyprus's 1960 independence from Great Britain, the island's 580,000 population was 79 percent Greek-Cypriot, 18 percent Turkish-Cypriot, and three percent "other" -- British expats, mainly. Out-migration of citizens from both communities had begun before independence, mainly for economic reason, but spiked after the commencement of inter-communal fighting in 1963, with Turkish Cypriots perceiving threats to their physical security and limited opportunities to make a living. After 1974, significant numbers of Turkish mainlanders -- the so-called "settlers" -- relocated to Cyprus, many for personal economic reasons but some due to Turkey's political decision to repopulate the north with ethnic Turks. By the mid-nineties, the island's population, while having grown substantially over 35 years, remained predominantly bi-communal, or at least bi-ethnic.

An island long accustomed to exporting human capital, Cyprus has witnessed an unprecedented wave of immigration since the late 1990s, altering the historically bi-communal (Turkish- and Greek-Cypriot) demographic balance and potentially affecting the Republic's political landscape longer-term. These new minorities outnumber the country's "official" Armenian, Maronite and Latin minorities by a significant margin; by 2008 reputable media reported a legal migrant population in Cyprus of over 100,000 and estimate the illegal population at 60,000. Of the largest communities, the Filipinos and Sri Lankans have focused on improving their short-term economic lot and shown little interest in politics, while the Pontian Greeks, who in many cases hold EU passports and enjoy limited voting rights, have put down roots and begun to organize politically.

Parliamentary elections took place in May 2006. These elections in this strongly presidential system did not seem to be about anything in particular and there is no sense of something important at stake. In large part, this was a function of the lack of settlement activity, which is the animating issue that gives energy to political campaigns in Cyprus. AKEL emerged the leading party, garnering 31% of votes cast, with DISY a close second with 30%; each is represented by 18 members of parliament (MPs). Other parties represented in parliament include DIKO (11 seats), EDEK (5), EUROKO (3) and the Greens (1). In February 2008, Demetris Christofias defeated incumbent Tassos Papadopoulos and challenger Ioannis Kassoulides in two rounds of voting to become the first AKEL president of the Republic of Cyprus. All major parties hold seats in the National Council, the top advisory board to the president on Cyprus settlement issues.

Parliamentary elections took place in May 2011. DISY emerged the leading party, garnering 34.3% of votes cast and is represented by 20 members of parliament (MPs), with AKEL finishing a close second with 32.7% and 19 MPs. Other parties represented in parliament include DIKO (9 seats), EDEK (5), EUROKO (2) and the Greens (1).

2013 Presidential Election

Voters in Cyprus went to the polls Sunday 17 February 2013 to elect a new president who must negotiate a financial rescue to prevent a government bankruptcy that could reignite the euro zone debt crisis. Current President Demetris Christofias did not seek re-election. The change in leadership came at a crucial juncture for Cyprus as the other countries that use the euro are expected to soon decide on a financial lifeline for the tiny country. Right-wing opposition leader Nico Anastasiades led opinion polls over his two main rivals, left-wing Stavros Malas and independent Giorgos Lillikas. Anastasiades was the most pro-bailout figure among the contenders. Malas campaigned on a pro-bailout, but anti-austerity platform, while Lillikas rejected a bailout, saying Cyprus could extricate itself from its financial woes by selling its natural gas reserves. Opposition leader Anastasiades won 45 percent of the vote in the first round, about 18 percent more than Communist-backed Stavros Malas.

On February 24, 2013 conservative leader Nicos Anastasiades won an overwhelming victory in Cyprus' presidential runoff, boosting hopes he will quickly act on his pledge to seek a bailout deal with international lenders to prevent the country's financial meltdown. Final election results showed Anastasiades took 57.5 percent of the vote, far ahead of his left-wing rival, the Communist-backed Stavros Malas, who finished with 42.5 percent.

Stock markets rallied and politicians praised a European Union and International Monetary Fund bailout agreement for Cyprus reached early 24 March 2013 after marathon talks in Brussels. The deal radically cut Cyprus's oversized banking sector, and forces losses on depositors holding more than 100,000 euros (about $130,000) in savings. It also called on the government to cut spending and carry out economic reforms, including privatizing state assets.

2018 Presidential Election

The start of 2018 marked the opening of the Cyprus presidential race. The election will take place on January 28. A run-off election is set to be held on February 4 if no candidate secures more than 50% of the vote. A total of nine candidates submitted their candidacies. Cypriot citizens all over the world will be voting for the country’s president for the next five years. A total of 38 voting centers will operate around the world for the 2018 presidential elections held in January 2018. In Greece there will be 15 centres for the Cypriot citizens. Five will be available in Athens, three in Thessaloniki and one each in Volos, Heraklion in Crete, Ioannina, Komotini, Larissa, Patras and Rethymno.

Incumbent Nicos Anastasiades is most likely to comfortably win the 2018 presidential elections with more than half the votes, Anastasiades, whose attempt to reach a Cyprus solution crashed and burned in Switzerland in July 2017, said the day after the election must find everyone united for the good of the country.

One of his main contenders in the presidential race, Stavros Malas, an independent backed by opposition Akel, said he would govern as the president of all Cypriots and asked voters for their trust. His candidacy was proposed by former President George Vassiliou, who was himself an Akel backed independent who governed from 1988 to 1993.

Democratic Party (Diko) leader Nicholas Papadopoulos, who is backed by socialist Edek, the Green Party and the Solidarity Movement is standing on a platform for change. “Together we are a massive social majority that wants to see an end to failed policies and that wants to restore dignity back to our people, who want to correct injustices, strengthen the social state, restore the middle class, to develop the Cypriot economy, to tackle conflict, corruption, to implement in practice a new strategy for the Republic of Cyprus, but also for efforts to resolve the Cyprus problem.”

Citizens` Alliance Movement President Yiorgos Lillikas, whose votes will be up for grabs in a second round most likely in return for a ministerial position, said his candidacy expresses an alternative policy, a new course for the Cyprus problem, the economy and social issues.

The leader of far-right Elam Christos Christou said the only clear voice among the parties right now was his. “We appeal to the people with the message that if they want change and are done with the old, corrupted and rotten, then the only clear voice is that of Elam,” he said.

Another presidential hopeful Haris Aristidou said the aim of his bid was his opposition to “the bigoted, bizonal, bicommunal federation, with a wrong or right content”. He also said he supported the “right of self-determination” and expressed his opposition to drug lords and the police, which he described as “corrupt”.

Wheelchair-bound Andreas Efstratiou said his candidacy was a bid to represent those on the margins of society. Efstratiou said the forthcoming elections were critical and referred to poverty and unemployment as well as the injustice that prevails in society. This is the tenth time he is running for election.

The poll is held against a backdrop of mistrust and frustration over what is widely seen as a line-up of uninspiring presidential choices. Persistent financial insecurity, social exclusion and concerns about corruption have fuelled broad disaffection - crucially, 75 percent of first-time Greek Cypriot voters didn't register to cast their ballot. But while many appear disengaged, the result of this election is seen as critical for Greek Cypriots emerging from a punishing financial crisis, all the while contemplating how, or whether, to move forward in a deadlocked peace process with the island's Turkish Cypriot community.

A candidate must win more than 50 percent of votes to secure an outright victory. If that threshold is not crossed, as it's expected, a runoff will be held between the top two contenders the following Sunday. Incumbent President Nicos Anastasiades, 71, of the right-wing Democratic Rally party, is tipped to the win the first round where 550,876 people have the right to vote.

In the second round, Anastasiades expected to face off either Stavros Malas, the 50-year-old independent candidate backed by the communist party AKEL who he beat in a 2013 runoff; or Nicolas Papadopoulos, the 44-year-old chairman of the Democratic Party and son of late President Tassos Papadopoulos, who in 2004 rejected a UN Cyprus reunification blueprint.

The first round was held on Jan. 28 during which none of the candidates passed the 50 percent threshold. Two other party-backed candidates, Giorgos Lillikas, who was supported by the Citizens' Alliance party, and Christos Christou, of far-right party ELAM, did not reach the February 4 runoff.

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades won reelection to second five-year term 04 February 2018, promising to continue economic recovery and the island's reunification efforts. The conservative Anastasiades beat his leftist challenger Stavros Malas 56 to 44 percent. The two also faced-off in the 2013 election. Anastasiades is credited with helping the Greek Cypriot economy bounce back from a severe recession that required a bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

But there has been little progress in U.N.-sponsored reunification talks with the Turkish Cypriot north. Anastasiades promises to resist Turkish demands to keep a military presence on a reunified Cyprus and continue oil and gas exploration off the Greek Cypriot coast – an enterprise that also angers Turkish Cypriots.

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