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Denied their right to vote

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Denied their right to vote

Postby coredump » Thu Sep 01, 2005 1:57 am ... 5&cat_id=1
Denied their right to vote
By Constantine Markides

EU NATIONALS residing in Peyia are being told that they cannot vote in Sunday’s by-election to elect a new mayor because the legislation has not yet been amended by Parliament, even though EU law enshrines their right to vote.

The September 4 by-election is taking place because the former Peyia mayor, Demetris Kappetzis, resigned in late July due to ill health.

Peyia residents will only cast their votes for a new mayor who will complete Kappetzis’ term, which will last until the next island-wide elections in December 2006. Municipal elections take place every five years.

With EU accession, expatriates in Cyprus who are EU nationals and who have satisfied the residency requirements to vote are able to participate in municipal elections.

The Paphos village of Peyia boasts one of the highest populations of expatriates per capita on the island. The real estate boom in the Coral Bay region has accelerated the incoming tide of EU nationals, mostly British.

A Peyia municipality official said yesterday that EU nationals could vote in Sunday’s election if they were listed on the electoral roll.

But Election Officer Lazarus Savvides told the Cyprus Mail yesterday that EU nationals would not be able to vote in Sunday’s election because the legislation on voting has not yet been amended.

“If they are members of a European country then we will change the legislation so that they will be able to elect and be elected,” Savvides said. “Right now they cannot vote because the legislation has to be amended.”

Savvides could not specify when the legislation would be amended, but said that “our main aim is to have the legislation in place for the general elections in 2006”.

National elections for Parliament are restricted to Cypriot citizens, but EU nationals are now granted the rights to vote in municipal elections and European parliament elections.

Directive 94/80 of the European Commission, which details the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in municipal elections, obliges member states to inform non-Cypriot EU nationals of their voting rights:

“The Directive… requires the Member State of residents to inform non-national citizens of the Union ‘in good time and in appropriate manner’ of the conditions and detailed arrangements for the exercise of these rights in elections in that State.”

One concerned Peyia resident said that not only had the government not disclosed any information about the electoral rights of EU citizens, but have not even posted any information on Sunday’s election in the town municipal office.
“My husband went and they hadn’t even posted an official notice that there are elections on Sunday,” she said. “Candidates are out doing their usual electioneering, but nothing is posted about the election.”

There are two candidates running for mayor in the Sunday election, a DIKO candidate and an independent formerly in the communist party, AKEL, though AKEL is not supporting his candidacy.

There are rumours that as the August 25 deadline for candidates officially to declare approached, the independent candidate was pressured to drop out of the race. The candidate has not stepped down, however, and the race is anticipated to be a close one.

There are around 70 registered non-Cypriot EU nationals in Peyia at present, although the figure could not be confirmed or denied by the municipal office. Those voters could play a pivotal role in what should be a tight race on Sunday.

The Peyia resident could not understand why they had not adopted the changes demanded by the EU. “They have had a whole year to incorporate these changes. EU Nationals can vote in Brussels elections, so why not in municipal elections?”

“There are some cases where the government might say ‘oh, we weren’t ready yet, we ran into some troubles’, and that’s fine. But this is about elections and that’s a whole different category. What if a mayor resigns next month in another town? Are they again going to tell registered voters to wait until 2006?”

She cited the construction of 7,000 villas in the immediate Peyia surroundings in the last few years as an example of how Peyia has been carelessly over-developed, adding there were many EU nationals who felt as she did about this issue and wanted to be able to vote for candidates, as they are entitled to do by law, who shared their positions.

Another Peyia resident, David, is currently working to put together an informal guide for EU nationals on their voting rights in Cyprus, since the government has not yet provided the information as it should have.

“I have been on the phone all morning, trying to find out whether or not I can vote,” said David Ball, a British expat who has been living in Cyprus for the last 14 years. “I was told in the Paphos District office that I can’t vote because these are temporary elections.”

Ball has been a registered voter in Cyprus since 2004 and he voted last year in the EU elections. “I’m registered on the electoral roll. A Cypriot who is on the roll is allowed to vote in local elections. So then why, if I am on the roll, am I not allowed? I would like to find out why I wasn’t put on that list and whose decision it was to not be put me on that list.”

Interior Ministry official Demetris Demetriou told the Cyprus Mail yesterday that although EU nationals like Ball had been entered into the electoral roll for EU elections in 2004, the necessary forms had not yet been submitted to the various districts to allow them to vote in local elections.

When asked why they could not register the voters over the next few days so that the Peyia citizens could vote on Sunday, Demetriou said that it was because the electoral roll is updated every trimester, and the last trimester expired on July 2. “If we are ready to enrol them in local elections, then they will be enrolled on October 2.”

But he conceded that even if the EU nationals had registered before any of the trimester deadlines this year or last year, they still would not have been allowed to vote. “We didn’t have the time frame to get the papers ready for local elections, but they will be in place by the 2006 elections.”

But according to a legal expert in the European Commission, 2006 is more than two years too late. The Brussels expert confirmed to the Cyprus Mail yesterday that there is no legal basis for denying the rights of EU nationals to vote in municipal elections:
“Member states have to transpose the acquis communautaire by their respective deadlines and the deadlines for Cyprus was accession,” he said, adding that “there can be no excuse” if they have not yet done so.

He added that the government cannot claim any exemption because this happens to be a by-election or because only the mayor is being elected. “By May 1, 2004, everything should have been in place. EU nationals have the right to participate in municipal elections regardless of the fact that those elections are not run in order to represent any representative council but only a mayor.”

The Brussels expert said that anyone in Cyprus who felt their electoral rights were being violated should lodge a complaint with Brussels or with the EU delegation in Cyprus.

He said Brussels “would investigate such a complaint very seriously”.

Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2005
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