NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The far-right ELAM party appears to have almost doubled its support in Cyprus' parliamentary election, exit polls showed Sunday.
Results from five separate exit polls released by four private TV stations and state broadcaster CyBC immediately after voting ended showed the two largest parties — the center-right DISY and the communist-rooted AKEL — to be leading the election in first and second place respectively.
But all five showed ELAM in a battle with center-left party EDEK for fourth spot, with the far-right party making significant gains from its surprise showing in 2016 when it finished in eighth place with 3.7% of the vote.
In its own exit poll, the CyBC showed support for ELAM to hover between 5-7%. An exit poll by private TV station OMEGA showed ELAM to have garnered 6.5-9.5% of the vote.
All five exit polls show the center-right DIKO party to be in forth place. Turnout was 63.9% — almost 3% lower than in the 2016 election. But Chief Returning Officer Costas Constantinou said he was “surprised" by the turnout which he called “high” given that the election was held amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Opinion polls in the weeks preceding the vote indicated that both DISY and AKEL would hemorrhage support as disenchanted voters seek out alternatives among smaller parties.
The election won’t affect the running of the government on the divided Mediterranean island nation, as executive power rests in the hands of the president, who is elected separately.
The island's 558,000 eligible voters were choosing among 21 political parties for the 56 Greek Cypriot seats in parliament.
Among the key campaign issues were the country's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the hoped-for economic reboot as the country ramps up vaccinations. Migration has also been an issue as the Cypriot government insists it has exceeded its limits and can no longer receive more migrants.
Smaller parties have appealed to voters to turn their backs on DISY, which they said is burdened by a legacy of corruption.
An independent investigation into Cyprus' now-defunct investment-for-citizenship program found that it unlawfully granted passports to thousands of relatives of wealthy investors, some with shady pasts. DISY bore the brunt of the criticism because it backs the policies of Anastasiades, the party’s former leader.
DISY President Averof Neophytou appealed to traditional supporters not to turn parliament into collection of fractured smaller parties that he claimed would gridlock the law-making process.