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Parliamentary elections held in May 2006 delivered support to parties that had rejected the UN peace plan for reunification with the disputed northern part of the island. No significant progress was made on the peace process during the year.
Annexed by Britain in 1914, Cyprus gained independence in 1960, after a 10-year guerrilla campaign by partisans demanding union with Greece. In July 1974, Greek Cypriot National Guard members, backed by the military junta in power in Greece, staged an unsuccessful coup aimed at such unification. Five days later, Turkey invaded northern Cyprus, seized control of 37 percent of the island, and expelled 200,000 Greeks from the north. Today, the Greek and Turkish communities are almost completely separated in the south and north, respectively.
A buffer zone, called the “Green Line,” has divided Cyprus since 1974. The capital, Nicosia, is similarly divided. Tensions between the two populations have plagued the island since independence. UN resolutions stipulate that Cyprus is a single country in which the northern third is illegally occupied. In 1983, Turkish-controlled Cyprus declared its independence, a move recognized only by Turkey.
After a new government was elected in November 2002, Turkey’s stance on reunification became much more supportive, as Turkey’s own chances of European Union (EU) membership had been linked to a resolution of the island’s division. Significant pressure from the EU and the United States, as well as UN intervention, also helped to move the two sides closer to a settlement. A new pro-unification government was elected in northern Cyprus in December 2003.
However, the latest and most promising round of reunification negotiations, led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, collapsed in 2004 after no consensus was reached. As was previously agreed, Annan himself proposed a plan that was put to a vote in simultaneous, separate referendums in northern and southern Cyprus in April 2004. Greek Cypriots, who previously had been more enthusiastic with respect to reunification, had reservations about the plan, especially concerning security and international guarantees that the Turkish side would comply. Ultimately, 76 percent of Greek Cypriots voted against the plan in a countrywide referendum, while 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots voted in favor. With the island still divided, only Greek Cyprus joined the EU as planned in May 2004. Membership had been a bargaining tool for the EU with Cyprus, and without it, a new reunification plan has been more difficult to achieve. Talks held between the Greek and Turkish leaders in 2006 made little progress on reunification.
At first, the overwhelming approval of the Turkish Cypriots for reunification sparked international efforts to reward them by ending their isolation. However, the Greek Cypriots oppose the most far-reaching proposals, such as direct trade between the north and the rest of the world. Their veto in EU decisions has made EU openings to the north less likely. Meanwhile, trade has increased between the two sides, and travel between the two sides is much freer.
In parliamentary elections held in the south on May 21, 2006, a record 487 candidates from nine parties contested the 56 seats. The Democratic Party (DIKO) won 11 seats, while the Democratic Rally (DISY) and Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL) each took 18 seats; three other parties captured the remaining 9 seats. The 2004 referendum and the prospects for reunification became major campaign issues, and the results were considered a signal of support for rejection of the UN plan by President Tassos Papadopoulos of DIKO; the United Democrats, which had supported the UN plan, did not win a single seat.
Accusations surfaced in fall 2006 that President Papadopoulos, who was elected president in 2003, had accepted an illegal campaign donation during that year, through a third party, from a foreign corporation; Papadopoulos denied foul play.
Cyprus is an electoral democracy. Suffrage is universal, and elections are free and fair. The 1960 constitution established an ethnically representative system designed to protect the interests of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots; the Greek Cypriots maintain that the constitution still applies to the entire island today. There is a clear separation of powers between the executive and legislature through a presidential system.
The unicameral House of Representatives has 80 seats filled through proportional representation, 24 of which are reserved for the Turkish Cypriot community; however, the Turkish Cypriot representatives withdrew in 1964 and have not been replaced to date. Instead, the Turkish Cypriots maintain their own Parliament in the northern part of the island. Representatives serve five-year terms. Voting is compulsory, although there is no penalty for those who do not vote. Spending limits for political campaigns are widely flouted. The president is elected by popular vote to serve a 5-year term. The country’s major political parties are DIKO, AKEL, and DIS.
Following a ruling against Cyprus by the European Court of Human Rights in 2004, a new law allows Turkish Cypriots living in the south to vote and run for office in Greek Cypriot elections. About 270 Turkish Cypriots registered this year, and one ran for office. A campaign is currently under way to pressure the government to allow Turkish Cypriots from the north to vote in Greek Cypriot elections as well. Turkish Cypriots cannot run for president, as the constitution states that a Greek Cypriot should hold that post and a Turkish Cypriot should be vice president. The Maronites (Catholics of Lebanese descent), Armenians, and Latins (Catholics of European descent) elect special nonvoting representatives.
Corruption is not a significant problem in Cyprus. A 2004 anticorruption law instituted compulsory asset declarations by state officials, although compliance with the law is questionable. The auditor-general has reported serious financial mismanagement in government departments. Cyprus was ranked 37 out of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected . A vibrant independent press frequently criticizes authorities. Several private television and radio stations in the Greek Cypriot community, including a new channel added in 2006, compete effectively with government-controlled stations. In February, in the run-up to the legislative elections, the political opposition accused the state broadcaster of favoring the government. Although Turkish Cypriot journalists can enter the south, Turkish journalists based in the north often report difficulties crossing the border. Access to the internet is unrestricted.
Freedom of religion is provided for by the constitution and is protected in practice. Nearly all the inhabitants of Greek-controlled Cyprus are Greek Orthodox Christians. Cypriots registered with the church were eligible to vote in 2006 for special representatives in the first phase of an election for the leader of the Orthodox Church. The vote was marred by claims of voting irregularities. State schools use textbooks containing negative language against Turkish Cypriots and Turkey.
Freedoms of association and assembly are respected. Nongovernmental organizations, including human rights groups, operate without government interference. Workers have the right to strike and to form trade unions without employer authorization.
The independent judiciary operates according to the British tradition, upholding the presumption of innocence and the right to due process. Standard procedure calls for trial before a judge, but requests for trial by jury are regularly granted. Prison overcrowding is often highlighted by domestic and international human rights groups; the government admits the problem but maintains that it is improving. Police and prison brutality has also been alleged, including targeted beatings of minorities; a new bureau to investigate complaints against the police was established in April, but it has not been able to address all complaints because of a lack of resources. In a high-profile case, two 27-year-old men were beaten by plainclothes police in December 2005 after they were allegedly suspected of drug dealing. The incident was caught on private video and released to the public. The trial of the 11 officers accused, who have all pleaded not guilty, is set for February 2007.
A 1975 agreement between the Greek and Turkish sides of the island governs treatment of minorities. Turkish Cypriots are now entitled to Republic of Cyprus passports, and thousands have obtained them. In practice, Turkish Cypriots in the south have reported difficulty obtaining identity cards and other documents, as well as harassment and discrimination. The Roma (Gypsy) population has encountered widespread prejudice and disadvantages, including in their treatment by the government.
Since Cypriot accession to the EU in 2004, all citizens can move freely throughout the island.
The status of property abandoned by those moving to either side of the Green Line beginning in 1974 is one of the major points of contention in reunification negotiations. Under changes in the law in the north, Greek Cypriots can appeal to a new property commission for property under dispute. A 1991 law states that property left by “Turkish Cypriots” belongs to the state.
Sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as violence against women, including domestic abuse, are problems. Although the Cypriot police set up a Human Trafficking Prevention Bureau, Cyprus remains a transit and destination country, and the U.S. government put Cyprus back on its trafficking “watch list” in 2006.