Tuesday, 26 February 2008
A resounding defeat for Greek Cypriot Nationalism and Neo-liberalism
The results of last Sunday¹s (24/2) crucial presidential runoff in Cyprus (Southern part) brought to office Dimitris Christofias the Communist Party leader who clinched 53% of the vote in an unprecedented victory for the island's communist AKEL party, beating the conservative Yiannis Kasoulides, who polled 46% of the vote. As the biggest Greek Cypriot political party, AKEL controls one-third of the vote but for the first time in its 82-year history fielded its own candidate for president. The communists have preferred to form a strategic alliance with a centrist or leftwing contender and play a back-seat role in government. It¹s no surprise then that Sunday¹s (24/2) results led its jubilant supporters, among them many Turkish Cypriots who crossed from North to South, to flood the streets of capital Nicosia, waving red and Che Guevara flags, honking car horns and lighting flares.
Christofias¹ victory added to another surprise victory in the first round when Tassos Papadopoulos, the incumbent president of the Republic of Cyprus was ousted.
All previous opinion polls leading up to the first round (17/2), showed the three main candidates for the presidency Demetris Christofias, Yiannis Kasoulides from the right wing DISY party and Papadopoulos who was supported by two other small parties, to be neck and neck.
The defeat of 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.
Papadopoulos was the president who led the "no" campaign for the Annan Plan on a nationalist basis during the referendum in 2004 when 76% of Greek Cypriots (G/C) rejected it. During the whole of the election campaign the Papadopoulos camp made nationalism and his hard-line approach towards the Turkish Cypriots (T/C) the central theme of their rhetoric, declaring that these elections were a second «referendum». The other two rival candidates had campaigned on a platform of resuming peace talks frozen for five years under Papadopoulos and in favour of a solution based on respect for both communities.
Interestingly, of those who voted against the Annan Plan in 2004, 60% supported the two main challengers sending them through to the second round. The results of the first round confirm what we in Workers Democracy have been arguing in our analysis of the referendum that not all Greek Cypriots who voted "NO" were nationalists but they rejected the Annan Plan because they did not trust George Bush and his accomplice Tony Blair to promote peace in Cyprus - only their own plans for Cyprus as the 'unsinkable aircraft-carrier' in the region.
AKEL¹s recent record
In February 2003 Papadopoulos won the presidency with the support of communist AKEL and another two nationalist smaller parties. As a result AKEL joined a coalition government with 4 out of a total of 11 ministers.
Papadopoulos¹ election coincided with the massive anti-war demonstrations internationally as well as in Cyprus against the invasion of Iraq by the US and Britain.
Despite Papadopoulos¹ rhetoric that he will be an obstacle to the conspiracy by Great Powers against Œlittle Cyprus¹ he proved to be a faithful ally to USA-Britain and Bush¹s war against Œterrorism¹. During his 5-year administration he offered every facility to US for logistics and communications in attacking Iraq, offered the use of Cyprus ports, airspace and the two British bases by US warships and aircraft carriers, much to the embarrassment of AKEL, its major partner.
During his term Papadopoulos apart from his nationalist-intransigent stance towards the T/Cs, the racist measures he adopted towards immigrants he followed a neo-liberal agenda while AKEL took a tolerant stance. During this period, Papadopoulos clashed repeatedly with sections of the working class and the youth when he increased the retirement age for public sector workers from 60 to 63 and tried to increase it also in the private sector. Large scandals engulfed also his government, much to the discontent of ordinary people.
All these, forced the leadership of AKEL to withdraw from the coalition government six months prior to presidential elections when it became clear to the leadership that its rank and file would not stomach another five-year term of a Papadopoulos government. It was on this basis that AKEL decided for the first time to stand its General Secretary, Christofias, as a presidential candidate in this election.
What became a determinant factor in these elections was not nationalism but the unprecedented class polarisation seen in society, the clash between left and right.
The choice for Greek Cypriot (G/C) workers was clear: people had to choose between the Tory DISY party and the reformist AKEL. The candidate of DISY, Kasoulides a genuine candidate of the G/C ruling class, endorsed the ŒHelleno-Christian¹ ideals, the insistence on ŒGreekness¹, anti-communism, the alliance with Great Powers, and the full acceptance of the Papadopoulos¹ hard-line on the Cyprus issue. It¹s no surprise then that Kasoulides enjoyed the open support of the employers, of the Archbishop and of the ultra-nationalist ŒAssociation of ex-EOKA fighters¹.
Christofias, the candidate of AKEL pulled in the runoff the support of the other two parties who formed previously the coalition government. AKEL¹s candidate is seen by a large section of ordinary people as the representative of the working class and a symbol of peaceful co-existence with the T/Cs and historically committed to re-unification of the island. The preference shown to Christofias as the new president among the T/Cs is rated at the high 85% according to the T/C daily "Kibrisli".
AKEL may still boast busts of Lenin and red flags at its headquarters but it is a reformist, Œpatriotic¹ party which has been associated for decades with the choices of the G/C ruling class and G/C capitalism. Christofias repeatedly stated that as president Œwill manage capitalism but with in a humane way¹. However, the majority of the people that voted Christofias with enthusiasm last Sunday, anticipating a better life, a more "just society" and an "equitable settlement" of the Cyprus issue as declared by Christofias, will not return home after the elections. They want to see these promises delivered. The people forming a large left section existing inside and outside AKEL, who united they fought the battle for the election of Christofias they will be the same people who will dash again to the front line of the battle to support Christofias when he will be hard-pushed by the right but also to oppose him mightily when he will turn adversely to the working class interests.
Now it is the time to start building a left alternative fighting for socialism, the only real just society that can exist. Building a left alternative that will wage a persistent war against nationalism and racism, which would confront and not appease the imperialists in return for diplomatic gains in Œour national question¹. An anti-capitalist left that it would support the working class struggles.
The unity among the left that was brought about first by the candidature of Christofias and the euphoria and the self-confidence reigned by tonight¹s victory can give a robust impulse to that direction.
Workers Democracy Group