Stung by graft and corruption, Cyprus holds elections for new parliament

FILE PHOTO: A man lets a child cast his vote during the European Parliament election at a polling station in Nicosia, Cyprus May 26, 2019. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou/File Photo

NICOSIA (Reuters) -Cyprus held elections for a new parliament on Sunday in a process likely to show a decline in support for major parties, and abstention by voters angered over corruption scandals.

More than 10 political parties or formations are seeking 56 seats in a vote that will likely not produce an absolute majority. Elections are held every five years, and political parties are anxious to avoid a repeat of 2016, when one in 3 registered voters abstained.

Cyprus has an executive system of government, but Sunday's vote is a key gauge of popularity for an administration ahead of their own reckoning with voters in 2023.

The present administration has faced criticism for championing a lucrative cash-for-passports scheme it had to abandon amid allegations of corruption in November 2020.

President Nicos Anastasiades of the right-wing Democratic Rally party is in his second five-year term.

"Everyone should stop doing something which might give others the right to decide for them. They should get off the couch and come to the polling stations," Anastasiades said after casting his vote.

Opinion polls suggest smaller parties are likely to benefit, eroding the dominance of Anastasiades's party and the Communist AKEL, the other traditional mainstay of Cypriot politics.

Among those are ELAM, an extreme right-wing party that had affiliations with the now-outlawed Golden Dawn of Greece. Polls suggest it could almost double its support from 2016, when it first elected two MPs to parliament.

The Greens party, fielding a diverse group of mainly young candidates, is also set to make inroads.

But the sheer number of candidates could also blunt the impact of any protest vote, leaving the composition in the legislature more or less unchanged, said Hubert Faustmann, Professor of History and Politics at the University of Nicosia.

"The protest vote might be the largest segment of voters but it has no single party or single figure around which they would rally their protests, and in Cyprus traditionally the protest vote goes in the direction of non-voting or invalid votes," Faustmann said.

Sunday's voting is held in the government-controlled areas of Cyprus. The island was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek inspired coup. A breakaway state in north Cyprus, recognised only by Ankara, has its own electoral processes.

Some 558,000 people are eligible to vote, and polling stations close at 1500 GMT.

(Reporting by Michele KambasEditing by David Holmes, William Mallard and Frances Kerry)

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