By Stefanos Evripidou
UN SPECIAL Adviser Alexander Downer plans to lead the Liberal Party of South Australia from this October, fuelling reports of a return to public life for the former foreign minister.
Downer has confirmed reports circulating in the Australian media that he plans to stand for the presidency of the South Australian Liberal Party in October after being urged to do so by the state opposition leader.
Downer has already been serving as vice-president of the Liberal Party’s federal division for the last three years. His opinion is believed to carry weight in the party after having served as foreign minister for 11 years (1996-2007) under the John Howard coalition government.
Asked by Cyprus News Agency if taking on the South Australian Liberal Party leadership would affect his duties as UN Special Adviser on Cyprus, Downer said: “No, no affect. I will resign as vice-president of the Party which I have been for three years to take on this honorary role in Adelaide. It’s an unpaid position.”
The current South Australian Liberal Party president’s term in office ends in October.
Downer told The Australian that taking on the leadership would allow him to help the Liberals of South Australia to win the next state election in March 2014.
“That will be my only role,” he said.
The Australian has been involved in UN-led peace talks in Cyprus since 2008. While coming close to reaching an agreed solution between the two sides in early 2010, the talks have since petered out.
Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu pulled out of the talks last year citing Cyprus’ assumption of the EU presidency as motive.
Since the election of Nicos Anastasiades as President, Eroglu has called for an immediate resumption of talks, with a clear timeline for their endpoint.
Anastasiades, however, rejected the idea, requesting some breathing space to deal with the unprecedented financial, banking and economic crisis befallen Cyprus following the Eurogroup decision to ‘bail-in’ the island’s two biggest banks in March.
Efforts are now focused on a return to the negotiating table in October. Anastasiades is expected to agree with the National Council this month on the appointment of a chief negotiator to represent him in the new round of peace talks.
The government has actively promoted the idea of enacting a significant confidence-building measure before talks start to introduce a measure of trust between the sides.
Specifically, Anastasiades has ambitiously raised the issue of a return of the fenced-off part of Famagusta (Varosha) in exchange for direct trade between the occupied north and the EU, and the ‘unfreezing’ of some chapters in Turkey’s EU accession negotiations.
Given the current standstill in Turkey’s EU negotiations, the unblocking of chapters could come as a relief to the under-fire government of Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan.
Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides initially hinted at the possibility of allowing direct flights to the airport operated in the occupied village of Tympou as part of the deal though he later backtracked on his statements.
Both EU and US officials have warmed to the idea of a substantial breakthrough in confidence between Greek Cypriots and Turkey, reportedly taking active involvement in efforts to open Varosha to its lawful inhabitants.
This in turn has added some confusion as to what exactly the UN’s role should be in all this.
In the meantime, Downer’s position has also come under question, with the majority of the Greek Cypriot political leadership openly criticising his involvement in Cyprus, even calling for his replacement.
Earlier this month, reports surfaced that Downer plans to head his country’s embassy in Washington.
Again, Australian media reports suggested Downer was being touted as the next Australian ambassador to the US, should the opposition win the upcoming elections.
Australian federal elections are scheduled for September 14 this year, with numerous Australian media tipping the opposition coalition headed by Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott to win.
According to the Herald Sun, Downer has made it known privately that he would be willing to serve in a future Abbott government.