Time of flux for Cyprus politics
By Charlie Charalambous | Thursday 12 July 2012
Cyprus politics are going through unprecedented changes as the country gears up for the 2013 presidential race with the Communist incumbent President Demetris Christofias being the first leader of the republic not to seek re-election. In May, Christofias took the unusual step of publicly announcing he would not stand for a second term in a 2013 election due to his failure to deliver a peace deal for divided Cyprus. “During the last presidential campaign I made a clear commitment to the Cypriot people of my decision to be president for one term only, except in the case of a Cyprus solution,” he said in a sombre address to the nation. In doing so, he practically declared a four-year UN peace process deadlocked and redundant despite the fact the international body is still engaged in trying to find a solution.
Christofias, 65, said Cyprus itself was now in a stronger position on the world stage after being “punished” following the rejection by Greek Cypriots of a UN settlement blueprint in April 2004.
No sign of a peace deal was the reason given to Cypriots, but it is felt that the island’s second largest party, the Communist Akel, considered their former general secretary a liability since the president came with too much baggage as his sky-high ‘man of the people’ popularity had plummeted. The core source of his demise has nothing to with the recession, enforced austerity or an economy running on empty – it was the deadly explosion at the Mari Naval Base, on 11 July last year, that shook the foundations of the current administration. With high hopes when its five-year term began in 2008, the government is now trying to keep its collective head above water.
Christofias had been swept to power on a wave of optimism, in February 2008, that he could achieve a long elusive settlement between his Greek Cypriot community and the breakaway Turkish Cypriot statelet in the North of the Mediterranean island.
The administration began as a three-party coalition government with Akel joined by Socialist Edek and centre-right Diko. But the often fractious marriage did not last. Edek was the first to leave, in 2010, disagreeing with the president over the UN-sponsored Cyprus talks – local politics revolve around the decades-long seemingly intractable problem – while Diko said goodbye in the wake of the munitions blast.
Christofias’s popularity hit an all-time low following the explosion, which killed 13 people and caused rolling power cuts at a time of increasing economic woes. It prompted unprecedented street protests and calls for the Soviet-educated president to resign as he was deemed responsible for not having averted the tragedy.
With the departure of Diko, the government was left with a minority in the 56-seat parliament and having to scratch around for some ministers of slightly wider appeal.
There was further disruption in March when the key Finance Ministry post was vacated by Kikis Kazamias due to ill health, while the controversial Commerce Minister Praxoulla Antoniadou was forced out. The government said she had resigned, but she denied having ever tendered her resignation.
All this took place while the government was conducting a second licensing round to explore possible gas and oil riches off its Southern coast.
In the meantime, Akel is still deliberating on whom it should endorse as a candidate for the next election. It has little hope of backing the winner unless it forms an alliance like it did last time when Christofias became the first ever Akel politician to assume the post of president.
Seasoned MP Nicos Anastasiades, the main opposition leader of right-wing Disy, has already thrown his hat in the ring as a runner in February 2013 and currently stands as a favourite to win the ballot. Ideological rivals Disy and Akel each enjoy a third of the vote, so they must entice outsiders for their man to get the 50% plus one vote to become president.
The other four smaller parties with a voice in parliament – the Greens, European Party, Diko and Edek – have been unsuccessful in trying to combine forces. Their bold move to seize the middle ground in Cyprus politics failed when they fell out over who should be the approved candidate to run on a commonly agreed manifesto.
So the consensus, which has served Cyprus politics for so long, seems to have deserted the political arena recently with the current election campaign already unfolding to be an acrimonious one with an economy in crisis and deadlock on the Cyprus issue taking centre stage.
Nevertheless, despite the euro crisis triggering financial hardship, the island’s political leaders remain firm EU believers.
UN MOVES DEADLOCKED
UN-backed reunification talks are in a limbo with direct negotiations between the rival Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders put on hold until common ground can be agreed. Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkish troops invaded in response to a Greek-inspired coup in Nicosia aimed at uniting the island with Greece, with only Ankara recognising the authorities in the north.
The United Nations has brokered several rounds of talks in a bid to reunite the island. UN chief Ban Ki-moon has warned the two sides that he could end the latest international efforts, which were launched in September 2008, unless they show more commitment to a solution.
The UN secretary-general has already abandoned plans for an international conference on Cyprus because the rival leaders have not made sufficient progress. But the United Nations is still holding out for an agreement on core issues of property rights, power-sharing in a federal Cyprus and citizenship. However, Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu have failed to see eye-to-eye on these big issues.
The UN chief had stepped up calls for concessions before Nicosia takes over the European Union’s rotating Presidency on 1 July, effectively pushing back any hope of a breakthrough until at least next year.