From Cypriot 'YouTuber' to Fredi Beleri: Meet the unusual candidates who won seats in the European Parliament

2024-06-11 21:57:30Fokus SHKRUAR NGA ASSOCIATED PRESS
Phidias Panayiotou

Fidias Panayiotou has no political experience and no connection to any political party.

But he has 2.6 million followers on his YouTube channel and slightly more on TikTok. He won a seat in the European Parliament as a representative of Cyprus. Mr Panayiotou is one of several unusual candidates who managed to secure one of the 720 seats in the European bloc's legislature.

"I didn't plan to vote, but since I saw you on TikTok, I will vote for you," said one driver Mr. Panayioutou interviewed for his social media profiles.

Social media played a tremendous role in the victories of some candidates. As citizens of a number of countries are expected to head to the polls this year, including France, Britain and the United States, the impact of social media on European Parliament elections has fueled debate.

The citizens of the 27 countries of the European bloc recently voted, choosing among others candidates who are in prison, have been expelled from their delegation or won even though they withdrew from the elections.

Here are some of the unusual candidates who won a seat in the European Parliament.

Cyprus

Mr. Panayiotou's first attempt at fame was a hug he gave to billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk and the posting of a slew of humorous videos on social media. His election, fueled only by the popularity of social media posts, shocked the Cypriot political class.

The 24-year-old won almost a fifth of the vote in Sunday's election. He came third after the candidates of the center-right party 'DISY' and 'AKEL', which has communist roots.

AKEL General Secretary Stefanos Stefanou expressed dissatisfaction with the result, which he called a "new reality in which citizens choose non-politics" to show their frustration with the country's political culture.

Spain

With two profiles on social networks and a harsh language against immigrants, a 34-year-old shocked Spain's far right by grabbing three of the country's 61 seats in the European Parliament.

He is Alvise Perez, a national-populist figure, founder of the party "The Party is Over - Se Acabó La Fiesta". Mr. Perez was completely unknown to Spaniards who did not follow far-right online profiles until the election.

Now he will choose two allies for the seats he won in the powerful European legislature that has two seats, one in Strasbourg, France, and one in Brussels.

Mr. Perez celebrated with a few supporters near a banner covered with his party's unusual logo: a squirrel drawn in a Guy Fawkes mask, a character made famous by the 2005 film "V for Vendetta." Fawkes is the most famous member of the failed 1605 plot to blow up the British Parliament, and his name has been associated with protest movements ever since.

"The party is over because, I'm sorry to say, Spain has become a party for criminals. Spain has become a party for the corrupt, mercenaries, pedophiles and rapists," Mr Perez told the crowd.

"The Party Is Over" won over 4% of the vote in Spain, receiving 800,000 votes. It won as much as several other experienced parties, including the smallest party in Spain's left-wing coalition government. The hard-right party Vox won six seats in Spain, doubling its 2019 tally, but would have fared better had Alvise Perez not entered the race.

Germany

Maximilian Krah, the front-runner for the far-right Alternative for Germany, was kicked out of his delegation over a series of campaign scandals - and was elected anyway.

The 47-year-old who was also elected MEP in 2019 announced on Monday on the X social network that newly elected lawmakers from his party voted to expel him from their group.

"I think this is wrong and sends a devastatingly impactful signal to our voters, especially our young voters," Mr. Krah said.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) finished second in Germany with 15.9% of the vote. This is a better result than the 11 percent secured in 2019, but still lower than what polls predicted at the beginning of the year. The party has faced a series of problems since then, including scandals involving Mr Krah and the party's leading candidate for the European Parliament, Petr Bystron.

Mr Krah, who works at a law firm and lives in Dresden, was under scrutiny after authorities in Brussels raided his offices at the European Parliament in connection with an aide who was arrested last month on suspicion of spying for China. German media have also claimed that he, like Mr Bystron, has close ties to Russia.

Last month, Mr Krah angered his party 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 reacted by saying his missteps had led to "massive damage" and that he would resign from its board.

MEP Krah tried to downplay the decision.

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

Greece

Fredi Beleri, who is a citizen of Albania and Greece and imprisoned in Albania, won one of the seven seats in the European Parliament secured by the conservative Greek party that governs the country, 'New Democracy'.

Beleri, a member of Albania's Greek minority, was elected mayor of Himara last year. But he never got to take the oath because he was arrested and sentenced to two years starting in March.

Mr. Beleri has denied the charges and allies have described his detention as politically motivated.

ITALY

The 40-year-old Italian activist Ilaria Salis was elected to the European Parliament as a candidate from the Green and Left Alliance (AVS) from house arrest in Hungary, where she is accused of attacking far-right demonstrators.

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

"She cannot be trusted. We must do everything possible to bring him home as soon as possible," said Angelo Bonelli, spokesman for the European Greens and AVS party lawmaker.

Ms 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 charges of abuse of power.

Former Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski and his former deputy, Maciej Wasik, were briefly jailed earlier this year before being pardoned by conservative-aligned President Andrzej Duda.

Grzegorz Braun of the far-right Confederation Party also won a seat despite causing a stir after blowing out candles lit for the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah in the halls of the Polish Parliament in December.

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