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EU Election, Day 3: Turkish Cypriots in the Mix

Over the past three months, polls for the European Parliament elections in Cyprus had settled into what seemed like a predictable, even boring pattern. The governing Democratic Rally (DISY-EPP) and main opposition Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL-GUE/NGL) are projected by Europe Elects to win two seats each; centrist kingmaker Democratic Party (DIKO-S&D) has remained in a comfortable third place; and far-right National Front (ELAM-NI) is only slightly ahead of socialist Movement for Social Democracy (EDEK-S&D) for the final of the country’s six seats.

However, the prospect of the participation of even a fraction of the country’s Turkish Cypriot voters has created a potential for an upset in predictions. Turkish Cypriot Niyazi Kızılyürek, an academic working for the University of Cyprus in the government-controlled south, is very likely to be elected as an MEP for AKEL even if only Greek Cypriots vote. Also, the Turkish Cypriot-only ticket of the Jasmine Movement led by journalist Şener Levent, known for his fierce opposition to Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, has been polling low in the south but could benefit from an increased Turkish Cypriot vote.

Since polling in the north is not easy for companies in the south to conduct, it is currently anybody’s guess whether the almost 81,000 eligible voters living in the north will vote and what their voting intentions are.  Kızılyürek has been campaigning on both sides with the assistance of AKEL and elements of the Turkish Cypriot party CTP (a member of the Party of European Socialists and indirectly affiliated with S&D), and media reports from both sides predict participation of 6,000 to 9,000 voters from the north.  Any figures higher than this are highly unlikely but this still would be a significant increase, as only 1,856 Turkish Cypriots voted in 2014.

At the very least, this election will be historical for intercommunal relations since it could mark the first time a Turkish Cypriot is elected through the political system of the Republic of Cyprus since the 1960s. If elected, he will also be the first politician elected with the input of voters from both of the country’s ethnic communities.

The other major question in these elections is whether far-right ELAM, an affiliate of Greece’s Golden Dawn, will follow up on the election of two members in the Cypriot House of Representatives in 2016 with its entry into the European Parliament. The party has been consistently polling in fourth place and is set to gain the country’s sixth seat but EDEK (S&D) has been gradually closing the gap by campaigning hard with the message that the far-right must be kept out of the European Parliament.

Polls have shown the joint ticket by Green party KOSP and centrist Citizens’ Alliance (SP), which is affiliated with ALDE, following closely after EDEK. A surge that pushes the KOSP/SP alliance to the sixth seat is not unthinkable, especially since the Greens historically underperform in polls.

DISY (EPP) and AKEL (GUE/NGL) will most probably repeat their 2014 performance with two seats each. The pre-election campaign had plenty of controversy in store for governing DISY but this hasn’t put a significant dent in polling results due to the fact that public opinion still does not fully trust AKEL on the economy. However, AKEL has been performing well in polls compared to previous years, maintaining its status as the country’s main opposition, partly because of DISY’s track record in government.

DIKO (S&D) is also maintaining its third place despite a challenge by splinter party DiPA. In an odd twist, one of the contenders on their ticket is former DISY MEP Eleni Theocharous, who left the governing party in 2016 to form her Solidarity party, which has been aligning itself with ECR in the European Parliament.