Greek Cypriots voted in a parliamentary election in a first test for communist President Demetris Christofias’s handling of complex talks with Turkish Cypriots on reunifying the divided island.
Opinion polls suggest a tight race between Christofias’s primary backer, the communist AKEL party, and the right-wing Democratic Rally in the elections.
Although Cyprus has a presidential system, analysts believe gains by the opposition in parliament could put him under greater pressure to play hardball, or retract concessions made to Turkish Cypriots in talks.
“It doesn’t take much to spook Christofias, and if something goes wrong he could turn ultra cautious on the settlement process,” a Western diplomat told Reuters.
Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 following a brief Greek-inspired coup.
Christofias is engaged in peace talks with Turkish Cypriot rival Dervis Eroglu on finding a federal settlement to the conflict that is complicating Turkey’s bid to join the EU.
“Cyprus is suffering from occupation and we have to concentrate our attention on how we can overcome the stagnation because of the intransigence of the Turkish leadership and create conditions for the reunification of Cyprus,” Christofias said before casting his vote.
Christofias has been criticised for proposing the island’s two communities share rotating presidency under a weighted voting system.
Even though voting is compulsory, polls suggest the abstention rate could reach up to 15 percent as people are increasingly jaded with politics.
“I don’t think anything will change,” said pensioner Eleni Constantinou, 68. “Is it easy for everyone to accept they need to change? The world is changing — the Germans are now friends with the French. We’re still stuck in the past.”
The Democratic Party, a junior partner in the coalition government, has been one of Christofias’s biggest critics. Opinion polls show it is likely to come a distant third but will maintain its kingmaker role in Cypriot politics.
If it suffers an erosion in support it could test the unity of the governing coalition.
Cyprus typically has a hung parliament and traditionally no party gains an absolute majority, making consensus-building an integral part of Cypriot politics. The new parliament will have to tackle pension reform as part of Cyprus’s intention of taming its public deficit to below 4.5 percent of gross domestic product this year.