- The Washington Times - Friday, May 19, 2006

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Communists are poised to maintain their leading role on this divided island when Greek Cypriots vote in parliamentary elections tomorrow.

The vote is not expected to change the political landscape on the Greek-Cypriot side of the dividing line nor tangibly improve relations with the Turkish-Cypriot minority.

The latest opinion polls give the Communist Party, known by the acronym AKEL, 29 percent of the ballots for the 56-member House of Representatives, while the conservative Democratic Rally (DISY), should emerge second with 27 percent.

The Greek-Cypriot portion of Cyprus is currently governed by a coalition of Communists and the center-right Democratic Party, or DIKO, of President Tassos Papadopoulos. Pollsters give DIKO 16 percent in tomorrow’s election.

Voters in Cyprus tend to be attracted more by personalities than by party platforms, which are usually similar.

Almost all of the 11 parties competing in the elections subscribe to the concept of Cypriot unity, but not necessarily on the terms of the latest United Nations proposal, which was rejected by Greek Cypriots in a referendum two years ago.

AKEL itself is a conundrum to foreigners. Its membership is a mixture of villagers, shopkeepers, the growing middle class and a sprinkling of rich Cypriots.

Its influence is second to that of the powerful Greek Orthodox Church. Despite the communist label, party members wholeheartedly embrace capitalism.

The unicameral parliament officially consists of 80 members, but the 24 seats reserved for the Turkish Cypriots have been vacant since 1963, when the two Cypriot communities broke up with recrimination and slaughter.

The conflict split the island into Turkish and Greek zones and required the dispatch of United Nations peacekeepers, who remain on the island 42 years later.

Despite slogans of elusive unity, business circles appear to prefer the continuing partition and an increasing number of Greek Cypriots would like to formally “legalize” it.

U.N. peacemaking efforts have been paralyzed since the 2004 referendum, in which Greek voters rejected a U.N. plan to reunify the island.

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