ATHENS (Reuters) - The success in Cyprus’s parliamentary elections of a far-right party opposing the island’s fragile peace process should spur on those aiming for a deal this year before more momentum is lost, analysts said.
The right-wing ELAM party took two seats in the 56-member chamber in the Greek Cypriot parliamentary elections on Sunday, its first since it was created in 2008.
The result largely mirrors voter disillusionment over the country’s financial meltdown in 2013, with fringe parties picking up protest votes. But it could also endanger reunification talks between the island’s estranged Greek and Turkish communities.
Diplomats say the talks are one of the best chances in generations to solve the Cyprus problem.
Split in two following a 1974 Turkish invasion and a brief Greek-inspired coup, Cyprus has defied a small army of peacemakers.
Now, however, each side of the island is run by a moderate politician, with Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci both saying they are committed to agreeing a peace deal this year.
But Anastasiades’s term as President of Cyprus expires in 2018, so the talks need to move forward before another year of electioneering begins, said James Ker-Lindsay, a senior research fellow at the London School of Economics who focuses on southeast Europe.
“If he is really serious, this is where he should come out and say this is the task at hand and move forward,” Ker-Lindsay said.
“There has been a certain tailing-off in talks in recent months. But now the election is out of the way it’s an opportunity to move forward” before negativity seeps in over the perceptibly slow pace of talks, he added.
Political analyst Hubert Faustmann echoed Ker-Lindsay’s sense of urgency.
“If they haven’t made a major breakthrough by the end of the year, we are done. I don’t see it happening next year,” he said.
Anastasiades’s right-wing Democratic Rally party lost 3.7 points, or two seats, in the election, while Communist AKEL lost 7.1 points, or three seats. Both parties have a moderate stance on the Cyprus question.
By contrast, Greek Cypriot parties which decry a federal solution to the problem as a sell-out made gains.
Opponents to the federal idea say it runs roughshod over the principle of freedom of movement and settlement, a basic tenet of the European Union itself. This is because the deal would create two zones, a Turkish one and a Greek one, where there would be quotas on ethnic populations.
At the extreme on the right is ELAM, an affiliate - and some say ‘kindergarten version’ - of Greece’s Golden Dawn party. ELAM has been involved in isolated acts of violence against Turkish Cypriots in the past. Some members stormed a lecture delivered by former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat in 2014.
Some of its sympathizers are also thought to be behind attacks on Turkish Cypriot cars in November 2015 in incidents roundly condemned by Anastasiades.
For most people, however, life goes on as usual, with thousands of commuters making their way daily across the designated checkpoints that divide the island.
“I have a lot of confidence in social control in Cyprus,” said Faustmann. “We know it only takes a few idiots to mess things up. Cyprus is no exception to the rule, but I don’t see it happening.”
Akinci, the Turkish Cypriot leader, avoided any reference to ELAM in a statement after the election but also focused on the need to push ahead in the peace talks, saying it was “time to act responsibly”.
“All attention should now be directed towards the efforts for solving the Cyprus problem,” he said.
Editing by Hugh Lawson