The election result caught us all by surprise. ELAM got the fourth place, which was more-or-less expected, but everything else was all over the place. Ruling DISY, despite the scandals, performed reasonably well with only one seat lost; EDEK got the fifth spot and increased its candidates by one; DIKO held well at third place despite the recent split; DIPA (spin-off from DIKO) managed to elect four MPs; and the Greens who massively underperformed their expectations still got an additional MP. AKEL were the big losers of the night, scoring an astonishing 5% less than DISY.
AKEL most certainly did not manage to win the protest vote. To be fair, neither did the other parties, with the exception of ELAM. DISY held its ground, despite the prevailing discontent. On first reading, three things may explain this. Firstly, while corruption was the main issue, it appears that people associated it with all the mainstream parties and not specifically with the ruling one, hence why all the top three lost supporters. Secondly, those who blame the ruling party, still do not trust the opposition to manage the difficult times ahead, notably the adverse economic impact of the pandemic. Thirdly, people realise that they live in a corrupt country and thus continue maintaining a toxic relationship of clientelism with those in power.
Notwithstanding the above, AKEL should have scored better. The chatter started immediately upon the release of the results, calling for a change in leadership. Subsequent reactions targeted AKEL’s politics. It boiled down to an oft-repeated call to turn it into a social democratic party. The first is insufficient and the latter is wrong. A change in leadership, while necessary, will not, in itself, solve the problems that AKEL is facing. It’s not an enlightened leader that AKEL is missing, though one could help. Also, AKEL’s problem is not its ideology or the way that it articulates its ideologically-driven positions; after all, the party has long abandoned the hardcore rhetoric in favour of a more social democratic approach, most evident during its tenure in office.
AKEL’s main challenge, which explains why it is shrinking one election after the other, has to do with the old-school functioning of the party, and particularly its exclusionary approach. Let me explain. AKEL relies on a core group of supporters who engage in internal democratic deliberations and decide the way ahead for the party. In a way, AKEL is the most grassroots of the parties in Cyprus. That said, it is not accessible to those coming from non-traditionally AKEL-supporting families. Given that inevitably some of the newer members of these AKEL-supporting families will opt for other parties, the pool of core supporters is bound to deminish. This is why new sources from where to attract supporters are needed. However, as it stands, the majority of left-leaning, progressive people, who could potentially support the party but do not come from traditional AKEL-supporting familieis, are prima-facie excluded, except if someone already on the inside vouches for the outsider. This is not the way to mobilise a society around one’s ideals, not how social movements are built, and certainly not how a political organisation should function in the age of information. There is a need for inclusiveness, transparency, and use of modern technologies. These are all areas where AKEL is lacking, and where it should invest in order to have a future, and I really hope it does.
Let’s not lose perspective. Many of us who share a different vision for Cyprus woke up numb this Monday morning. It still hasn’t sink in. We need to acknowledge the situation. We need to critically self-reflect in order to identify the reasons why our message is not getting across to the majority. The most counterproductive thing to do is blame the voters. Let’s take a moment and continue the fight for a better future.