Thursday, 22 March 2012

First skirmishes in Cyprus presidential elections

I should mention the developments in the race to become Cyprus’ next president, elections for which are due in February 2013.

Last Saturday, right-wing DISY, the largest political party on the island, decided that its leader Nikos Anastasiades would be their candidate. Anastasiades easily saw off a challenge from MEP Eleni Theocharous – winning by 87 percent to 13 percent of the party executive vote. Theocharous had sought to rally those in the party who haven’t forgiven Anastasiades for supporting the Annan plan in 2004 and who still suspect that he’s weak on the Cyprus problem. Indeed, because of his dubious credentials on the national issue – and the vitriolic way he opposed Tassos Papadopoulos during his presidency, 2003-2008 – opponents of Anastasiades wondered how it was he was going to attract votes from supporters of the four parties – DIKO, EDEK, EVROKO and the Greens – who were at the forefront of the NO campaign against the Annan plan and were Papadopoulos’ strongest supporters. But Theocharous, while being more palatable to DIKO, EDEK, EVROKO and the Greens, was never going to be able to command the support of the DISY rank and file and her decision to contest the nomination must have been kite-flying to see if there was enough backing for her within the party to justify a shot at the presidency as an independent. It seems that her meagre showing has dampened down her presidential ambitions because she said today that she intends to work towards getting Anastasiades elected.

The main reason Anastasiades, despite being damaged by his support for the Annan plan, has got such a good chance of becoming president next year is because the incumbent Dimitris Christofias is largely detested – last poll figures show his popularity at 22 percent – and because it appears that Christofias wants to put that loathing to the test by edging towards a decision to stand again.

Previously, Christofias has said he would only seek re-election if it appeared that a solution to the Cyprus problem was imminent and required him to see it through. But since a Cyprus solution is not imminent and since Christofias has absolutely no chance of being re-elected – the parties that backed Papadopoulos in the first round of the 2008 elections and who switched to Christofias after Papadopoulos’ elimination have all categorically stated they will not be supporting Christofias in 2013 – there existed the possibility that to save himself personal humiliation and to avoid consigning his party AKEL to the political margins, Christofias might not stand again. Except, yesterday, during a live televised press conference, Christofias dropped a big hint that he was going to stand in 2013; he said he was receiving encouragement from (unnamed) European leaders to seek re-election on the basis that they could not imagine Cyprus without him as president. All music to Anastasiades’ ears. His greatest fear would have been his opponents collaborating to come up with a ‘Stop Anastasiades’ candidate.

The unknown factor at the moment is what DIKO, EDEK, EVROKO and the Greens will do. Having decided not to support either Christofias or Anastasiades, they now face the challenge of coming up with their own candidate. The obvious candidate would have been DIKO’s Markos Kyprianou, but, as foreign minister in the Christofias government at the time of the Mari disaster, he’s now up on manslaughter charges. Mention has been made of Giorgos Lillikas, former foreign minister in Tassos Papadopoulos’ government; but he is anathema to AKEL – to which Lillikas used to belong – and if, as seems likely, Christofias is facing elimination in the first round in the presential elections, then the DIKO block would need to bring AKEL on board if its candidate is to beat Anastasiades in the second round.

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