Seminar report: The right to vote in referenda

Global trends and eligibility

On 24 May 2016, Lobby for Cyprus held its annual seminar at the Hellenic Centre in central London. The theme was the right of refugees and all Cypriots in the diaspora to vote in a Cyprus settlement referendum. 

The seminar was organised in collaboration with the UK-based Cypriot refugee associations of Ayios Amvrosios, Famagusta, Morphou, Lapithos & Karavas and Eptakomi. The event was chaired by Dr Marcus Papadopoulos – publisher and editor of Politics First magazine and television commentator on geo-strategic politics.

Lobby for Cyprus coordinator Theo Theodorou gave a brief introduction in which he relayed a message of support from David Burrows MP for the Right to Vote campaign.

Dr Marcus Papadopoulous opened the seminar by explaining that in his opinion, the moral consideration for allowing refugees and others in the diaspora the right to vote, was the most compelling factor. Dr Papadopoulous handed over to the first speaker, Lobby for Cyprus assistant coordinator Nick Kounoupias, who explained that given the international legal recognition of Cypriot refugees’ right to return and continued ownership of property in Cyprus, there is no reason why Cypriot refugees should not be allowed to vote in a referendum on the Cyprus issue.

Speakers at the Right to Vote seminar, Hellenic Centre, London

Dr Theodora Christou presented the legal case for allowing Cypriots of the diaspora to vote in referenda. She highlighted the unjust nature of the 2004 Annan Plan referendum where despite the fact that Turkish colonists, who arrived after the 1974 invasion were given full voting rights – the refugees (who had been forced to flee abroad) and Cypriots of the diaspora – were not permitted to vote. The refugees and those in the diaspora did not meet the eligibility criteria which include the requirement that they had to be resident in Cyprus for a six months period.

Dr Christou explained that the campaign called for all Cypriots who were eligible for Cypriot citizenship to be given the right to vote in any referendum. A referendum differs from ordinary elections where the outcome can be changed in four to five years. The next Cyprus settlement referendum will permanently change the future of Cyprus. She responded to the objections raised to date, stating that no constitutional amendment was required to amend the eligibility criteria for the right to vote; that the Cyprus government should not restrict the rights of its citizens in the flawed belief that they can control Turkey’s decision as to who they permit to vote.

Dr Christou pointed to precedents in South Sudan, Iraq, East Timor and Afghanistan which illustrate the global trend to not require citizens to fulfil residency requirements in order to vote. She concluded that despite there being no legal reason why all eligible citizens of the Republic of Cyprus should not be allowed to vote, there were political reasons and thus it was necessary to begin lobbying politically within Cyprus. She pointed out that the non-resident status of Cypriots in the diaspora had neither diminished their connection with or commitment to Cyprus, something acknowledged by the President of Cyprus himself. They should therefore be enfranchised and given a say in the future of Cyprus. She urged all Cypriots (and non-Cypriots) to sign the petition to the President of the Republic of Cyprus.

Given the international legal recognition of Cypriot refugees’ right to return and continued ownership of property in Cyprus, there is no reason why Cypriot refugees should not be allowed to vote in a referendum on the Cyprus issue.
Nick Kounoupias, Lobby for Cyprus assistant coordinator

Vassilis Mavrou of the Famagusta Association GB, stated that in his opinion the six month residency requirement imposed by the Cypriot government infringed upon the laws and principles of the European Union. He stated that Cyprus had violated Article 3 of the first protocol of the European Convention of Human Rights: the right to regular, free and fair elections. He explained that the Famagusta Association called upon the Cypriot government to enact legislation to allow Cypriots to vote in any referendum.

The moral case for allowing eligible Cypriot citizens to vote in any referendum was clearly made by Nick Yiannoullou, chairman of the Eptakomi Association UK. He questioned how it was justifiable that the relatives of those killed or missing from the village of Eptakomi were still required to perform military service for the Republic of Cyprus and yet are denied the right to vote on the future of the village they were forced to flee.

Savvas Pavlides of the Lapithos & Karavas Association UK supported this view. He added that it was unreasonable that the relatives of Cypriots who had lost their lives fighting for Cyprus and those who had been forced to flee their homes in 1974, were prevented from voting on any proposed Cyprus settlement.

Soula Kitsiou of the Morphou Association UK spoke as an individual who wants to exercise her right to vote if there is a referendum on the settlement of the Cyprus issue. Ms Kitsiou gave her account of her family’s escape from Lapithos in 1974 and her upsetting return to her house in Morphou after the opening of the checkpoints in 2003. She explained that for her it was inconceivable that Turkish colonists should be allowed to vote on the future of the island but that herself and her children would not. She also emphasised that many non-refugees had dedicated their time for Cyprus and should not be forgotten in a vote.

Finally, Angelos Beshonges of Ayios Amvrosios Association UK reiterated the immorality of the situation in which refugees who had lost everything during the invasion, had also lost their right to vote.

Dr Marcus Papadopoulos concluded by explaining that the stories and opinions expressed in the Right to Vote seminar encapsulated the tragedy that beset Cyprus in 1974 and the misfortune and injustice that continues to the present day.

Lobby would like to thank all the speakers, representatives, participants, guests and Dr Marcus Papadopoulos for their time and support.

Above: Famagusta, Morphou, Eptakomi, Lapithos, Ayios Amvrosios (click on images to enlarge)

Sign the right to vote petiton

Lobby for Cyprus is a non-party-political human rights organisation that campaigns for a Cyprus free from Turkish occupation and a unitary Cypriot state without segregation along ethnic and religious lines.