A defeat for Greek Cypriot nationalism and neoliberalism
Dimitris Christofias won the presidential runoff in Southern Cyprus on Sunday 24 February. He took 53 percent of the vote in an unprecedented victory for the island’s Communist AKEL party, beating the conservative Yiannis Kasoulides, who polled 46 percent.
This is the first time in AKEL’s 82-year history that it has fielded its own presidential candidate, despite being the biggest Greek Cypriot political party and controlling a third of the vote. Previously the Communists have preferred to form an alliance with a centre or left candidate and take a back seat in government.
Sunday’s result brought the party’s jubilant supporters flooding onto the streets of the capital, Nicosia, waving flags, honking car horns and lighting flares. Among them were many Turkish Cypriots who crossed from the North to the South.
Christofias’s victory builds on the surprise first round ousting of incumbent president Tassos Papadopoulos.
The 74-year-old Papadopoulos, a renowned anti-Turk who adopted a hard line approach to the Cyprus issue, was the undisputed favourite to win the elections. He was the president who led a nationalist “no” campaign during the 2004 referendum, when 76 percent of Greek Cypriots voted against unity with the Turkish north.
During the recent campaign the Papadopoulos camp made nationalism and his hard line approach towards the Turkish Cypriots central themes of their rhetoric, calling these elections a second “referendum”.
The other candidates demanded the resumption of peace talks – frozen for five years under Papadopoulos – and campaigned in favour of a solution based on respect for both communities.
Papadopoulos was knocked out because 60 percent of those who voted no in the 2004 referendum voted for one of the other candidates. The result confirms what Workers Democracy has long argued – not all Greek Cypriots who voted “no” were nationalists. Many rejected the plan because they did not trust George Bush and Tony Blair to promote peace in Cyprus.
AKEL’s recent record
In February 2003 Papadopoulos won the presidency with the support of AKEL and two smaller nationalist parties. AKEL joined a coalition government, taking four out of a total of 11 ministers.
Papadopoulos’s election coincided with massive anti-war demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq, internationally as well as in Cyprus.
Despite his promise to be an obstacle to the Great Powers’ conspiracy against “little Cyprus”, Papadopoulos proved to be a faithful ally to the “war on terror”.
During his five-year administration he offered every facility to the US for logistics and communications in attacking Iraq, and offered the use of Cypriot ports and airspace – much to the embarrassment of AKEL.
As well as his intransigent stance towards the Turkish Cypriots and the racist measures he adopted towards immigrants, Papadopoulos followed a neoliberal agenda.
He clashed repeatedly with sections of the working class and young people when he increased the retirement age for public sector workers from 60 to 63 and tried to increase it in the private sector. Large scandals also engulfed his government.
These issues forced AKEL to withdraw from the government six months prior to presidential elections. It had become clear to the leadership that its rank and file would not stomach another Papadopoulos government. It was on this basis that AKEL decided, to stand its own presidential candidate.
The determining factor in these elections was not nationalism, but an unprecedented class polarisation in society and the clash between left and right.
For Greek Cypriot workers the choice was clear – between the Tory DISY party and the reformist AKEL. Kasoulides, The DISY candidate, is a genuine member of the Greek Cypriot ruling class, endorsing “Helleno-Christian” ideals, anti-Communism, an alliance with Great Powers and the full acceptance of the hard line on the Cyprus issue. He enjoyed the open support of the employers, the Archbishop and the ultra-nationalist “Association of ex-EOKA fighters”.
During the second round run-off, Christofias, the AKEL candidate, pulled in the supporters of the other two parties who previously formed the coalition government.
Many ordinary people see him as representing the working class, and as a symbol of peaceful coexistence with Turkish Cypriots.
The preference shown for Christofias as the new president among Turkish Cypriots is rated at 85 percent according to the Turkish Cypriot daily, Kibrisli.
AKEL still has busts of Lenin and red flags at its headquarters, but it is a reformist, “patriotic” party, which has been associated for decades with the policies of the Greek Cypriot ruling class and Greek Cypriot capitalism.
Christofias has repeatedly stated that he “will manage capitalism, but in a humane way”. However, the majority of the people who voted for him are anticipating a better life, a more “just society” and an “equitable settlement” of the Cyprus issue. They want these promises delivered.
There is a large left wing section of the population, inside and outside AKEL, who united to elect Christofias. They will be in the front line to defend Christofias when he comes under pressure from the right, but they will also oppose him mightily when he turns against working class interests.
Now is the time to start building a left alternative, fighting for socialism – the only real just society that can exist. We must build an anti-capitalist left that will support working class struggles.
The left unity created by Christofias’s candidature and the euphoria and self-confidence brought about by his victory can give a robust impulse in that direction.
This article was originally posted on the International Socialist Tendency website » www.istendency.net/node/view/64