The 1949 Municipal Elections
One of the measurements the Cyprus government utilized to evaluate its Cold War efforts against AKEL was the latter’s electoral support. AKEL’s control of municipalities, even if the British held ultimate authority, nevertheless gave the communists an official voice and political legitimacy. British authorities were indeed unable to interfere directly in these democratic elections, given the watchful eye of communist propagandists. Instead, while unwilling to include the US , the British did take indirect action whenever they could.
In March 1949, one such opportunity presented itself when the Cyprus courts reinterpreted a key qualification for holding elected office, specifically that a candidate must be resident in the municipality for two years before the election. The courts ruled that imprisonment, because it disrupted the prisoner’s residency, could disqualify him or her from seeking office. The ruling was subsequently applied to Servas as well as to a councillor and former councillor for Limassol regarding the upcoming municipal elections. Because they had no right to appeal, AKEL was forced to make new nominations. Bennett minuted, ‘we need not be too squeamish about accepting any tactical advantages in the cold war which come our way’.81
Nevertheless, the municipal elections ‘took place quietly, smoothly and without incident’ in May, apart from disturbances in Nicosia between members of the X Organization and AKEL which resulted in two deaths. Turnbull interpreted the outcome as ‘an unexpectedly substantial victory for the Right over their Akelist opponents’.82 The nationalists unseated AKEL in Nicosia and several rural municipalities: Lapithos, Karavas, and Lefkoniko. AKEL, particularly given its pre-election difficulties, suffered reductions in every one of the municipalities but still maintained control in Limassol, Famagusta, Larnaca, and Morphou.83
AKEL’s losses did not elicit much optimism from the Cyprus government. Turnbull was quick to point out that party membership did not reflect the slip in electoral support. Since September 1947, AKEL had lost only 11 members, while it lost 39 of its municipal seats in the 1949 election. Furthermore, some 11,000 ballots (44.6 per cent of the total vote) had still been cast for AKEL candidates, which, Turnbull calculated, were five times the party’s membership. He admitted that while ‘the falling off in “fellow traveller” support is significant, this support is still considerable’.84
Increased British intelligence, information management, and nonintervention regarding the Greek-Cypriot nationalists failed to destroy
AKEL. As we will see in Chap. 12, 1950 did see the decline of AKEL and the rise of Greek-Cypriot nationalist-led violence. However, this did not deter the Cold War priorities of British policy-makers and their focus on the Cypriot communists. In addition to the legal and administrative weapons to combat AKEL’s influence via public rituals and demonstrations, trade unionism, and youth that we have seen detailed in this chapter, policy-makers would seek more extreme powers to fight the imperial Cold War in Cyprus.