SPEAKING to a party conference in Paphos on Sunday, the new DISY leader Averof Neophytou launched a scathing attack on our political system and the way it mismanaged the economy, for decades, bringing it to brink of bankruptcy. Neophytou mentioned many painful truths in his speech, noting how both the state and households had become accustomed to living beyond their means, but his strongest words were directed at the populism that has always plagued political life.
He said: “A crime that is still being perpetrated and threatens, more than anything else, the collective effort to save Cyprus is populism. Populism distracts and misleads citizens with zero-cost and, at the same time, unachievable promises that cover up problems and prevent the finding of necessary solutions. Populism constitutes the wrong prescription. Instead of tackling the crisis, it deepens it. Instead of averting catastrophe, leading through toil and sacrifices to salvation, the only thing it will achieve is to lead us to total catastrophe.”
His evaluation is correct, but sadly he is the only party leader who sees the dangers posed by mindless populism which, despite everything we have suffered in the last year as a direct result of it, still reigns supreme. It remains the only political currency, with the political establishment still engaging in it, having learnt nothing from our experiences. It could be because they know no other form of political discourse than pandering to public opinion which usually entails avoiding reality.
We still remember the former president celebrating, last December, because he had allegedly ‘saved CoLA and the 13th salaries of public employees’ while avoiding mentioning the future of the economy was hanging from a thread. Populism reached its apogee last March when the political parties decided to reject the first agreement with the Eurogroup and paved the way for the much worse second deal. Even Neophytou’s DISY did not vote for the agreement, taking the only slightly less populist stand of abstaining.
We had hoped the Anastasiades government, which is a DISY administration, would shun populism, but it has been a big disappointment in this respect. It has been pandering to all the union bosses – promising no more pay cuts in the public sector and no redundancies at SGOs, while offered boosted compensation packages to Cyprus Airways staff that would be made redundant. We suspect it has also been backing the bank employees union which is currently negotiating pay cuts at the Bank of Cyprus.
The crime of populism that Neophytou, quite rightly, is worried about continues to threaten our country and is being perpetrated not just by irresponsible communists, but also by the government DISY is a part of. Populism always ends in tears, said a wise man, but in a country incapable of seeing beyond the short term, it is not an issue.