By Nikos Stelgias
Those who read this column know very well that the writer makes every effort to view developments in Cyprus and the wider region from a multidimensional perspective. The political and socioeconomic developments of Cyprus may have their own particular “Cypriot characteristics” but it is not possible to treat them as mere phenomena that have nothing to do with the wider, regional, Mediterranean and European context.
One of these matters is the future of the political opposition movements that are seeking executive power and going after senior government posts in Cyprus as well as in the neighbourhood.
The gist of today’s op-ed, considering the latest developments and opinion polls in Cyprus, is rather simple and concise: In all of this socioeconomic restructuring, here in Cyprus as it also happens in our broader area, the democratic institution is having a shortcoming flaw besides its other big weaknesses. The entire political opposition is unable to make a compelling case to offer as an alternative to government plans.
The above mentioned flaw is more evident in Cyprus’ entire neighbourhood. The SYRIZA undertaking in Greece in just a short amount of time has shown that “the experiment of the local communist party” was nothing more than a reorganization and enhancement of the country’s social democratic movement (reshuffling the deck within PASOK) which is fully in line with the orders and guidelines of neoliberalism.
The entire political opposition is unable to make a compelling case to offer as an alternative to government plans
In neighbouring Turkey the weaknesses of the opposition speak for themselves. For seventeen years, Recep Tayyip Erdogan remains the absolute dominant factor in the political game. Mr Erdogan may have lost control of two big urban centres two Sundays ago, but his party continues to be at the top of Turkish political parties with at least 14 points ahead.
In Egypt, a state in our neck of the woods which has been maintaining close ties and cooperation with our country, the Muslim Brotherhood movement has shown its true colours in just a very short amount of time. During its brief hold onto power, the movement showed that in reality it was not a genuine, effective social opposition movement or a coalition alternative. The movement tried to construct its own political and socioeconomic establishment (see SYRIZA example) which brought about the disenfranchisement of large sections of society.
We have seen the same picture of this kind of reality also in the case of our neighbour Israel following the recent parliamentary elections. The inadequacies of the opposition had as a result the perpetuation of the Prime Minister’s party staying in power, even while his name is involved in big corruption scandals.
Coming back to our own little and sadly still divided Cyprus, despite systemic socioeconomic problems, big scandals, corruption, the aching and bulging civil service, justice system, and so forth, the opposition continues to keep an eye on the administration from safe distance as it is stuck in faulty ways of the past and inflexible old ideas. These mistakes, besides losing traditional votes also lead to the wave of sociopolitical dissidence expressed at the ballot box with a simple “invalid” or abstention altogether (see recent election abstention data).
Generally speaking, the big parties that traditionally compete with each other in the Cypriot political establishment, putting aside minor particularities of the local political system, basically follow the trend of the failed movements in the wider region.
Big problems in a nutshell
The big problems can be found in four main areas. First, at the political level, parties of the government opposition along with movements that actively seek power do not modernize and are unable to put their finger on the pulse of society. In the case of Cypriot government opposition we can see a politically “aging” leadership that is not open to self-criticism, does not put an end to the chapter of the failing governance of 2008-2013, and insists on outdated models of political action.
Second, at the social class level, all of their alternative proposals for governance are highly problematic. How else could we explain the boost in voter turnout among the extreme rightwing in working class boroughs of Piraeus or the working folk vote going to a corrupt government administration in Israel?
Third, we see problems also at the ideological level. Parties mainly to the left of the political spectrum, currently the so called Left as some would call it, dominate this category by being unable to adjust Marxist principles to the realities of modern societies of the 21st century.
And final, there are also big issues at the leadership level. The avid reader here who may want to take a glimpse at the biographical profile information of leaders of opposition parties who seek power in countries of our region will confirm the validity and significane of this fourth point.
In general, the deficit flaw of opposition politics in our region is nothing more than a flaw of the institution of democracy. The shortcomings of the opposition - not counting of course the big mistakes and faults of the government in power, the dead end of neoliberalism, which are beyond the scope of this opinion piece - push people closer to the extreme right, abstention, prompting them to cast an invalid ballot and causing outbursts that are meaningless to the working class such as shouting in anger “burn it down, burn it down, torch the m***er f***ing House.”