THE LEADERSHIPS of the political parties are not accustomed to encountering public dissent from members over their decisions. The key feature of these presidential elections, however, has been the refusal of large groups of party members to accept the candidate choice of their leadership. So far, all parties, with the exception of Disy, have faced dissent of some form from members.
It all started at Giorgos Lillikas’ party, Citizens’ Alliance, when a large group of members of the hierarchy, including a deputy, walked out and set themselves up in a ‘platform’ that announced it would back the candidacy of Nicolas Papadopoulos. The ‘platform’ disagreed with Lillikas’ ‘no-hope’ candidacy and felt that Papadopoulos was the only hard-line nationalist with a chance of winning. They may also have felt that Lillikas, a political opportunist, insisted on standing in order to cash in his party’s votes in the second round for a ministry.
At the weekend, some 300 members of Eleni Theocharous’ Solidarity Party quit the party in protest against the decision to back Papadopoulos’ candidacy and announced they back Nicos Anastasiades; these were members of Evroko, which had merged with Solidarity before the last parliamentary elections. Dr Theocharous had the nerve to dismiss the defectors as “self-serving people who move from one party to the other,” ignoring that she had done exactly that during her political career.
Party members refusing to follow a leader they suspect of using the party as a vehicle for pursuing personal ambitions is progress. Both Lillikas and Theocharous have used their respective parties and were punished by ordinary members.
Papadopoulos, meanwhile, is facing dissent from a section of his party, supposedly because of his hard-line positions on the Cyprus problem. On Sunday, Marios Garoyian, the man he replaced as Diko leader, fired a broadside against Papadopoulos’ new strategy ‘sophistry’ fully endorsing Anastasiades’ positions. Garoyian has a sizeable following within the party that Papadopoulos managed to alienate with his divisive leadership style. Edek leader Marinos Sizopoulos is facing a similar situation although he has managed to keep a lid on it, for the time being.
Even Akel, renowned for its disciplined unity and the leadership’s zero tolerance of dissent is having difficulty rallying supporters behind Stavros Malas. There is a small, pro-Papadopoulos faction in the party, led by the marginalised, former parliamentary spokesman Nicos Katsourides, even though the party’s real task is arresting the decline in support that was triggered by the disastrous Christofias presidency.
All this dissent may be a positive sign, an indication that party supporters are no longer prepared to follow their leader uncritically, without questioning decisions. It may just be they want to be on the winner’s side, which is why most defectors have ended up joining one of the two front-runners – Papadopoulos and Anastasiades.