Niyazi Kızılyürek fails in re-election bid while Greek Cyprus’ far-right ELAM secures a seat in the European Parliament

The results from Sunday’s European Parliament (EP) Elections in southern Cyprus proved disappointing for the three candidates of Turkish Cypriot origin who were standing, including AKEL’s Niyazi Kızılyürek.

Five years ago, Kızılyürek, a lecturer at the University of Nicosia in southern Cyprus, made history by becoming the first Turkish Cypriot Member of the European Parliament (MEP). He was standing as a candidate for the Greek Cypriot communist party AKEL and was one of two MEPs from the party to be elected in 2019.

He had campaigned on a slogan of “our voice in Europe” to voters in North Cyprus in 2019, promising to do “everything I can” to make Turkish Cypriots visible on the international stage”, but materially little has changed for those living in North Cyprus, which in turn may well have impacted the turnout from the North.

There were hopes that double the number of Turkish Cypriots who voted five years ago would participate this time around, but the turnout was pretty similar on 9 June 2024.

Back in 2019, 5,604 Turkish Cypriots had cast their ballots in the European Parliamentary (EP) Elections, compared to 5,676 ballots at this year’s elections, of which 5,523 were deemed valid.

Turkish Cypriot candidates

AKEL commanded 4,485 (79.1%) of the Turkish Cypriot votes, but it was not enough to help Kızılyürek, who came a distant third to his two AKEL colleagues on Sunday, garnering just 16,545 votes compared to Georgios Georgiou, who was re-elected as an MEP with 33,488 votes. Anna Theologou was AKEL’s second highest polling candidate with 26,163 votes, but she was also unsuccessful in her bid to gain a seat in Brussels due to more votes going elsewhere.

The newly formed progressive pro-unification party VOLT, who also had a Turkish Cypriot candidate, Hulusi Kilim, polled 646 votes (11.4%) from voters in North Cyprus. VOLT, which was only formed in December 2023, received a total of 10,777 votes – just under 3% of all votes cast in Cyprus.

A third person of Turkish Cypriot heritage, Oz Karahan, had stood for an anti-Turkish left wing party called the Movement of Ecologists – Citizens’ Cooperation, which secured just 342 votes (6.2%) from North Cyprus. The party received a total of 4,742 votes (1.29%).

Poor turnout from the North

The number of Turkish Cypriots eligible to vote at the 2024 EP Elections was 103,269, which equates to around 15% of the total electorate of nearly 700,000 voters in Cyprus.

Some commentators, such as Derya Beyatlı of the Human Rights Platform in North Cyprus, had been confident before polling day that Turkish Cypriots would vote in higher numbers on Sunday, which in turn could impact the results.

Beyatlı told Cyprus Mail before the election, “We are starting to become aware of our power. We are becoming aware of the fact that we can make some things happen. We are starting to become more determined to put up a struggle. We are realising that the more we close up and isolate ourselves, we are losing the struggle.”

The Human Rights Platform, which is an umbrella body for seven other civil society groups in North Cyprus, had been funded by the European Union to run a promotional campaign to increase Turkish Cypriot participation. Coaches were put on to enable those in the North to cross to the South and vote more easily. It was not to be.

The turnout of voters from the North remained pegged at just 5.5% — while numerically similar to five years ago, the percentage has effectively fallen given the number of those eligible in the North in 2019 stood at around 75,000.

Several reasons may be behind the low turnout.Virtually all the mainstream political parties in the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus had called for Turkish Cypriots to boycott the EP Elections. Among them were pro-unification politicians such as former Lefkoşa Mayor Kutlay Erk, who said the process did not represent their part of the island.

The failure of the European Union (EU) to treat both sides in Cyprus equally has also dampened enthusiasm in the North. Twenty years ago, the EU had the opportunity to end the longstanding political deadlock in Cyprus by refusing to admit a divided island as a full member, but it instead chose to break its own rules and allow the Greek Cypriot part of the island into its midst whilst – at the instigation of the Greek Cypriot authorities and its EU ally Greece – suspend the Acquis Communautaire in North Cyprus, which effectively excluded Turkish Cypriots as EU citizens.

The EU allowed thisto occur despite a two thirds majority of Turkish Cypriots voting in favour of the internationally backed Annan Plan referendum to reunite Cyprus in April 2004, while three quarters of Greek Cypriots had rejected the plan that would have created a federal, bi-communal, bi-zonal Cyprus.

After the divided island’s admission into the EU, Turkish Cypriots had advocated that two of the six seats allocated to Cyprus in the European Parliament be given to Turkish Cypriots. This was resisted by the Greek Cypriot authorities, who continue to retain all six seats for parties and candidates in the South.

Kızılyürek’s term as MEP a big disappointment

Another reason for Turkish Cypriots failing to vote in any great numbers on Sunday was Kızılyürek’s term as an MEP, which has been largely disappointing.

Kızılyürek’s 2019 election victory had seemed like a watershed moment in Cyprus politics, but he failed to get Turkish adopted as an official language of Cyprus, despite it being a requirement of the 1960 Republic of Cyprus Constitution. The academic turned politician had also wanted to end various discriminatory practices against Turkish Cypriots that had been implemented by the Greek Cypriot authorities. This includes the denial of EU citizenship for children of mixed marriages through to obstacles in accessing the South’s Global Healthcare System, Widows Pension and Disability Benefits for those Turkish Cypriots who work in the South and pay into its Social Insurance Fund.

The Turkish Cypriot professor had received many promises from the Greek Cypriot president and authorities about changes to alleviate these problems, but nothing of substance was forthcoming.

Kızılyürek’s views on Turkiye’s intervention in Cyprus in 1974 and its current role there, which he described in a social media post on 20 July 2023 as an “invasion” and “occupation”, would have also alienated many Turkish Cypriots. Instead of breaking down bigoted views in the South about Turkiye and Turks, Kızılyürek seemed to reinforce them.

Turkish Cypriots less positive about the EU

The cumulative result has led to the souring of Turkish Cypriot attitudes towards the EU and South Cyprus, which in turn may well have impacted the turnout.

The EU itself has captured a significant reduction in the number of Turkish Cypriots who view the EU positively in its Standard Eurobarometer 98 (January 2023). In 2019, 56% of Turkish Cypriots it had polled felt that the EU generally evokes a ‘very positive’ or ‘positive’ image. This figure dropped by nearly 20 percentage points during the pandemic years and by January 2023, it was still less than half at 43% who viewed the EU positively.

For the vast majority of eligible Turkish Cypriot voters, there was nothing to gain by voting in the 2024 EP Elections as nothing was likely to change for them. Yet their absence in these elections has opened the door for more extreme Greek Cypriot factions to get a foothold in Brussels.

Growth of far-right

As predicted in the polls, the far-right Greek Cypriot party ELAM secured its first ever seat in the European Parliament, having garnered 41,215 votes (11.19%). Geadis Geadi will be their MEP after receiving 14,705 personal votes – the lowest among the six elected MEPs.

Bizarrely, ELAM received 6 votes from those voting from the North, while the even more extreme National Action Movement (Knima Ethniki Drasis) had 11 votes.

The overall turnout in Cyprus for the 2024 EP Election was 50.5% — 5% higher than in 2019. ELAM’s vote share was the third highest of all the parties that stood. The Greek Cypriot far-right party has overtaken EDEK, who no longer has an MEP, and DIKO, which retains one MEP, with only the right-wing DISY, which has two MEPs, and AKEL, which is now reduced to just one MEP ahead of it.

ELAM’s success mirrors the rise of far-right parties across Europe, with gains in countries such as France, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Italy.

YouTuber the big surprise in Cyprus

The highest scoring candidate on Sunday in South Cyprus was 24 year-old independent Fidias Panayiotou. Famed for his content on YouTube, where he has over 2.5 million subscribers, Panayiotou went from interviewing last year’s Greek Cypriot presidential candidates to becoming a candidate himself, garnering the highest individual vote in Cyprus at the EP Election, 71,330 – 26,000 more than his nearest rival, DISY’s Loukas Fourlas, who received 52,590 votes.

Running on an anti-establishment platform, the YouTuber managed to secure the attention of many normally apathetic voters, with some 2,000 new people registering to vote on the day Panayiotou ran 80km from Girne to Larnaca, which he livestreamed. The young Greek Cypriot has said he is in favour of a bi-communal, bi-zonal federal solution to the Cyprus dispute.

Turkish-Kurdish candidates in the rest of Europe

There were more than 35 candidates of Turkish, Turkish Cypriot or Turkish Kurdish origin that stood in the EP Elections in numerous countries, including France, Greece, Belgium, and Holland, and for parties across the political spectrum in Europe. Only three were successful – all MEP incumbents.

MEPs (clockwise L-R): Engin Eroğlu (Germany), Evin İncir (Sweden), and Özlem Demirel (Germany)



Two of the three were from Germany: Malatya-born Özlem Demirel, who was re-elected for The Left Party, and Engin Eroğlu was re-elected for the centre-right Free Voters Party.

The Swedish Social Democratic Party’s Evin İncir, who is originally from Diyarbakır, is the third re-elected MEP whose roots are from Turkiye. Both Demirel and İncir are of Kurdish origin, while Eroğlu is a German-born Turk.

Most of the candidates failed because they were either low down their party lists or were from parties representing minorities, so had little chance of electoral success. Yet their presence in the European elections allowed them to raise the visibility of their communities, whilst also reflecting the growing integration of ethnically Turkish or Kurdish people into their respective countries.