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Politics

Cyprus Elections: Centrist Government Suffers Parliament Losses

NICOSIA —  It won't have any effect, but an ultra-nationalist party and centrist group that broke away from the ruling center-right DISY of Prime Minister Nicos Anastasiades made gains in parliamentary elections that showed anger over corruption and a scandal over a now ended program selling residency permits.

ELAM, an offshoot of Greece's dismantled neo-Nazi Golden Dawn whose leaders were jailed after being convicted of running a criminal gang, got 6.78 percent of the vote, a 3 percent bump from the 2016 elections.

The centrist DIPA, comprised of key figures who left the center-right DIKO party, traditionally the third biggest got 6.1 percent while DISY got 27.77 percent, some 5.4 percent ahead of the closest rival, the Communist AKEL, both taking losses.

"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)."

It was only a pyrrhic victory for the disgruntled, however, as Anastasiades still rules despite outrage over the residency permit scandal that an independent panel found sold passports to rich foreigners without checking them, including criminals.

Fifteen parties contested the elections and about 65.73% of nearly 558,000 eligible voters cast ballots for the 56 Greek Cypriot seats in parliament. Voter turnout was 1% less than the previous poll.

The parliamentary election won't affect the running of the government, as executive power rests with the President, who is elected separately, Anastasiades elected in 2013 on the back of promises not to let banks seize depositor accounts to keep themselves from failing, vows he broke.

Despite that, and the failure to bring reunification with the Turkish-Cypriot side that's occupied the northern third since an unlawful 1974 invasion, he won reelection easily and even the scandal hasn't galvanized massive opposition.

Analyst Christoforos Christoforou said the results indicate a “very big failure” on the part of both 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, its supporters not put off by scandal.

Christoforou said the real winners were ELAM with its strident anti-migration platform and hardline nationalist polies and DIPA, whose top echelons still have connections to the centers of political power as former ministers and lawmakers.

He said that the high electoral threshold of 3.6 percent means that 15,000 voters who cast ballots for smaller parties who didn't win any seats are left without a voice in Parliament, although marginal parties have no real say in anything.

Opinion polls in the weeks preceding the vote indicated that both DISY and AKEL would bleed support as disappointed voters seek out alternatives among smaller parties but even the losses won't affect anything Anastasiades wants to do.

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 that is ingrained in an island still fighting a reputation as being a haven for dirty money and criminal outfits using its banks to hide their illicit cash.

Christoforou said there are questions as to whether the government has breached rules by using state funds to campaign for DISY but nothing's been done about it.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)

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