© AFP / by Charlie Charalambous | A woman casts her ballot for the parliamentary elections at a polling station in the capital Nicosia on May 22, 2016
Final results released on Monday showed that 3.7 percent of voters backed the National Popular Front (ELAM), a party which defends the Athens-inspired coup of 1974 that triggered a Turkish invasion that has left the island divided to this day.
Turnout in Sunday’s election was a record low of 67 percent on an island where voting is in theory compulsory.
The rightwing Democratic Rally (DISY) of President Nicos Anastasiades, who negotiated a 2013 bailout for the island with international creditors, took 30 percent of the vote and 18 seats in the 56-seat parliament, down two on the last election in 2011.
The main opposition communist party AKEL fared worse, taking just 25 percent of the vote and 16 seats, a loss of three, as a protest vote hit both the major parties.
An unprecedented eight parties won seats in the new parliament, making it potentially the most fractious ever and posing a major challenge for the president in pushing through unpopular reforms promised to lenders.
The centre-right Democratic Party (DIKO), which gave key backing to Anastasiades on the reforms demanded by the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, won an unchanged nine seats.
The right-wing Solidarity Movement (KA) took three.
The Movement for Social Democracy (EDEK), the leftwing populist Citizens Alliance (SYPOL) and the Ecological and Environmental Alliance (KOP) all also won seats.
Half of the new members of the House of Representatives are first-time lawmakers, and the number of women MPs has jumped from four to 11.
The president had issued a polling day plea for voters to turn out, insisting that the economic austerity of the past three years had been worth it to rescue the island’s economy.
“I believe that the decision of much of the electorate abstaining from the elections should trouble everyone,” he said.
His party leader Averof Neophytou was more upbeat.
“We are the only governing party in Europe that introduced the toughest bailout programme and we are still the first party,” he said, while also acknowledging that politicians needed “to win back the trust of the voters”.
– ‘Didn’t show up’ –
Communist opposition leader Andros Kyprianou said: “AKEL voters have not gone to other parties, they just didn’t show up.”
A spate of corruption scandals in public office and parliament’s handling of the eurozone bailout agreement have sparked widespread anger and disenchantment with the political scene.
ELAM’s winning of two seats in parliament was a first for the island.
It mirrored the result from a presidential election in Austria on Sunday that saw populist Freedom Party (FPOe) leader Norbert Hofer neck-and-neck to become the European Union’s first president from the anti-immigrant far-right.
ELAM defends the 1974 coup that sought to unite the island with Greece and that triggered Turkey’s invasion of its northern third, ushering in the island’s division.
It opposes the European Union and has organised demonstrations against both Turkish Cypriots and African and Middle Eastern migrants on the island.
Progress on UN-backed talks to reunify Cyprus was not an election issue because both the main Greek Cypriot parties support reunification under a federal roof.
But the weakened position in parliament of AKEL, a vocal supporter of the talks, could spell trouble for the process.
The negotiations are at a crucial stage, and Greek Cypriot leader Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci must make painful compromises to reach a deal.
Cyprus has emerged from three years of economic slowdown after the government imposed harsh austerity measures in exchange for a European Union and International Monetary Fund bailout.
In return for 10 billion euros ($13 billion at the time), Cyprus agreed in March 2013 to wind down its second-largest bank, Laiki, and impose losses on depositors in undercapitalised top lender Bank of Cyprus.
In March this year, the euro group of finance ministers praised Nicosia for its successful exit from the bailout programme.