PREPARATIONS for next year’s presidential election, the only thing that really matters to the political parties, have begun.
Today the supreme senate of the Alliance of Citizens, the vehicle for Giorgos Lillikas’ presidential ambitions, was supposed to approve the candidacy of its leader, who hopes to be the candidate of the rejectionist parties, although yesterday a change of plan was reported. Meanwhile the executive office of Diko, which met on Thursday, decided against sanctioning the candidacy of Nicolas Papadopoulos yet. The leader said that a decision on the candidate should be the result of consultations with the rest of the so-called centre parties.
Disy and Akel were only parties that did not engage in any election lobbying, the former because it already had a candidate and the latter because it could not enter an alliance with any of the rejectionist parties. Meanwhile, President Anastasiades has already embarked on his campaign for re-election with several vote-buying announcements in the last few weeks.
Wasting the taxpayer’s money is not proof that his campaign had started. The real proof is the hardening of his stance on the Cyprus problem, the public grandstanding and non-stop blame-game he has been engaging in for the last few weeks. It has become something of a political tradition for the Disy candidate to turn into a hard-liner, peddling super-patriotism, for an election campaign.
The late Glafcos Clerides won two presidential elections by abandoning his moderate views on the Cyprus problem and turning into a hard-liner. In 1993 he campaigned against the Ghali ‘set of ideas’ in order to defeat Gerorge Vassiliou, who had agreed them, and five years later he tapped nationalistic sentiments by ordering the S300 ballistic missiles and playing the tough military leader. Clerides was re-elected but some 200 million Cyprus pounds were wasted as the missiles never arrived. He was not so tough when Turkey threatened a pre-emptive strike and decided, after he was elected, to send the missiles to Crete.
This transformation from Cyprus problem moderates into hard-liners was also evidenced in the last elections as Anastasiades pandered to his super-patriotic Diko allies. In the 2018 election it can be said with certainty he would not have the backing of official Diko but he would still be angling for the votes of the less hard-line members of the centre parties.
He is making a grave error, however, in taking for granted the backing of the pro-settlement voters after the way he has led the talks to a deadlock. He could blame Turkey and Mustafa Akinci all he wants for it, but it would not be so easy to fool the supporters of a settlement if he goes to the election having blown the best ever opportunity for a deal. We suspect many of these voters would not buy Anastasiades’ excuses and would want to punish him, for prioritising a second term over a settlement. Would he have the nerve to promise he would work for a settlement and if he did would anyone believe him?
It is not only Disy candidates that undergo a miraculous transformation as elections approach – hard-line rejectionists turn into moderates promising a settlement, usually a perfect one that the Turkish Cypriots would never agree to. The late Tassos Papadopoulos pledged to work for a settlement based on the Annan plan in 2003 and he won the election comfortably. A few months before the 2008 elections he started talking about the need for a settlement – a federation with the right content was his slogan – but nobody believed him and he was excluded from the second round, even though the economy was flying.
Now, his son, Nicolas has not only toned down his fanatical anti-settlement rhetoric, but he is expressing concern about the deadlocked talks and is publicly calling on Akinci to return to the negotiating table! This is the most reliable indication that the younger Papadopoulos will be a candidate. As for Lillikas, he has already distanced himself from his fellow hardliners of the other centre parties, staying away from Friday’s Paphos seminar for rejectionists. He had sent a flunkey to read his speech at a similar gathering in Nicosia in December, but this time his party boycotted the event, because Lillikas would need to fool some of Akel’s pro-solution voters to have a chance of winning an election.
The Cyprus problem dishonesty of our politicians is the only constant of presidential elections, not that there is much honesty at other times. But as elections approach the moderates become hard-liners and the rejectionists become champions of bi-zonal-bi-communal federation – with the right content, of course. This mockery hides what unites all candidates – their support for the maintenance of the status quo which is the guarantee against power-sharing with the Turkish Cypriots and, God forbid, rotating presidency.