The Malta Independent 13 June 2024, Thursday
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These candidates who won seats in the European Parliament this week aren't who you might expect

Associated Press Tuesday, 11 June 2024, 08:20 Last update: about 2 days ago

He has no political experience. No high-profile endorsements. No party affiliation.

What Fidias Panayiotou does have is 2.6 million followers on YouTube and more on TikTok. And now he has won a seat in the European Parliament representing Cyprus, one of several unusual candidates who launched improbable campaigns only to snag membership in the 720-seat legislature.

"I wasn’t planning on voting, but since I’ve been seeing you on TikTok, I’ll vote for you,” said a driver Panayioutou stops, interviews and posts about.

Social media played an outsized role in the victories of a few candidates, prompting chatter in the political classes about its apparent role as an equalizer for unknown hopefuls as voters in dozens of democracies go to the polls this year, including in Britain, France and the United States.

Voters in the parliament's 27 countries in recent days also elected candidates who are in prison, have been kicked out of their delegation and withdrew from the election only to win seats, anyway.

Here's a closer look at unusual candidates-turned-MEPs — members of the European Parliament, representing some 400 million eligible voters.

Cyprus

Panayiotou's initial claim to fame was a hug he gave to billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, plus an assortment of humorous videos. His election, fueled only by his popularity on social media posts, shook up the island nation's political class in what many saw as a snub to deep-rooted party culture.

The 24-year-old who goes only by his first name, Fidias, won almost a fifth of the votes in Sunday's election, placing him third behind traditional party candidates of the center-right DISY party and the communist-rooted AKEL. It’s a first in a country where the mighty political parties have long earned iron-clad loyalty by meting out favors.

AKEL Secretary-General Stefanos Stefanou lamented the outcome, which he called a “new reality in which citizens opt for non-politics as a political choice” to register their disenchantment with the country’s political culture.

Spain

Armed with a pair of social media accounts and staunch anti-immigrant discourse, a social media influencer rocked Spain’s far right by snatching up three of the country's 61 seats in the European Parliament.

The driver was a national-populist figure known by the pen name of Alvise Perez, 34, founder of the “Party is Over” party. The 34-year-old was completely unknown to Spaniards outside the tight internet circles of the country's far-right until election eve.

Now he'll take along two allies to fill the seats he has won in the powerful European legislature that meets in Strasbourg, France and Brussels.

Perez celebrated with some loud supporters in front of a backdrop covered with his party’s unorthodox logo: a cartoon drawing of a squirrel wearing a Guy Fawkes mask popularized by the 2005 movie “V for Vendetta.” Fawkes is the best-known member of the foiled 1605 plot to blow up the British Parliament and has since been associated with protest movements.

“The party is over because, I am sad to say, Spain has become a party for criminals. Spain has become a party for the corrupt, mercenaries, pedophiles and rapists,” Alvise told the hooting crowd.

“The Party Is Over” won over 4% of the ballots cast in Spain and pulled in 800,000 votes. It matched the three seats won by other established parties, including the junior member of Spain’s leftist coalition government. Spain's far-right Vox party scored six seats on Monday, doubling its 2019 share, but it would have likely done better if Alvise had not launched his rogue effort.

Germany

Maximilian Krah (photo), the top candidate for Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany, was kicked out of his delegation for a series of campaign scandals — and was elected anyway.

The 47-year-old MEP since 2019 announced Monday on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the newly elected lawmakers from his party voted to exclude him from their group.

“I think this is wrong and sends a devastating signal to our voters, especially our young voters,” Krah said.

The Alternative for Germany, or AfD, finished second in Germany with 15.9% of the votes. That’s better than its showing of 11% in 2019, but still some way short of its poll ratings at the beginning of the year. The party has seen a string of setbacks since then, including scandals surrounding Krah and the party’s other top candidate for the European Parliament, Petr Bystron.

Krah, who works at a law firm and lives in the eastern German city of Dresden, was under scrutiny after authorities in Brussels searched his offices at the European Parliament in connection with an assistant who was arrested last month on suspicion of spying for China. German media have also alleged that he, as well as Bystron, has close links to Russia.

Last month, Krah raised the ire of his party and beyond when he told an Italian newspaper that not all members of the Nazis’ elite SS unit, which was involved in major war crimes during World War II, were war criminals. The party said said at the time that his missteps had led to “massive damage” and that he would resign from its board. Krah tried to downplay the decision.

“It’s not the end of the world," he said.

Greece

A jailed politician won one of seven European Parliament seats earned by Greece's governing conservative New Democracy party.

Fredi Beleris, a member of Albania's ethnic Greek minority who has dual citizenship, had been elected mayor of the Albanian town of Himare last year. But he was never sworn in because he was arrested on vote-buying charges and sentenced to two years beginning in March.

Beleris has denied the charges, and allies have described his detention as politically motivated.

Italy

Italian activist Ilaria Salis, 40, was elected to the European Parliament as a candidate from the Green and Left Alliance (Italian acronym AVS) from house arrest in Hungary, where she is on trial and charged with assaulting far-right demonstrators.

More than 170,000 voters wrote Salis' name in on the ballot in a bid to bring her home from Hungary, where she has been detained for a year and four months.

“She can’t believe it. We need to complete the job, and do everything possible to bring her home as soon as possible,’’ said Angelo Bonelli, spokesman for the European Greens and lawmaker for the AVS party.

Salis became a cause célèbre in Italy after images emerged of her handcuffed and chained in a Hungarian courtroom.

Poland

Two candidates from the opposition Law and Justice party won seats despite their previous convictions on abuse of power charges.

Former Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski, 54, and his former deputy, Maciej Wasik, 58, were briefly imprisoned earlier this year before being pardoned by President Andrzej Duda, who is aligned with the conservative party.

A third, Grzegorz Braun of the far-right, anti-Ukraine Confederation party, won a seat after extinguishing candles on a menorah that were lit for the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah in the halls of the Polish Parliament in December.

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