By Constantinos Psillides
Although not nearly as sexy and provocative as the famed HBO series, the clash between MP Nicolas Papadopoulos and DIKO leader Marios Garoyian for the Iron Throne, or party leadership, was almost bloody enough to turn television executives green with envy.
In the last few weeks the two contenders have used every weapon at their disposal and didn’t hold back any punches. “Neo-liberal”, “populist” and “willing to sacrifice the party for his own agenda” are just some of the insults hurled at Papadopoulos by the Garoyian camp. “A failure as a party leader”, “power-hungry” and “incapable of affecting major policies” is a selection of the accusations the Papadopoulos camp countered with.
DIKO voters are called upon today to decide which one of their battle weary candidates is better suited to head the party for the coming years.
Like all good political intrigue plots, there is also influence from a man in the shadows. DIKO’s coalition partner, the governing DISY and its former leader, president Nicos Anastasiades needs DIKO MPs now more than ever, with public displeasure and opposition in the parliament increasing due to austerity measures. Anastasiades also needs allies if he is to resolve the Cyprus problem, a remote chance with Nicolas Papadopoulos at the helm of DIKO.
Papadopoulos tried to put a stop to rumours about dissolving the coalition if he is elected DIKO leader, saying that he will back Anastasiades “as long as he keeps his promises”.
But the Papadopoulos – Garoyian rivalry is not just about the future of the coalition. It has been brewing for years and it’s a battle for the soul of the party, an inevitable clash of the two factions that have been operating almost independently of each other since the passing of former party leader and president, Tassos Papadopoulos on December 12 2008.
Garoyian came to power on October 22 2006, after Tassos Papadopoulos stepped down as DIKO leader, beating MP Nicos Cleanthous to the position.
Meanwhile, on May 21 2006, Nicolas Papadopoulos was elected MP.
DIKO went on to back Dimitris Christofias in the second round of the 2008 presidential elections, a move that caused displeasure within the party.
Three years later, on May 15 2009, Garoyian ran unopposed for re-election as the party leader. Papadopoulos was elected deputy leader.
Two distinct factions began forming in the party: one under Garoyian, best described as “the party faithful”; and the “hardliners”, especially when it came to the Cyprus problem, under Papadopoulos.
Under continuous political pressure, Garoyian was forced to put the matter of dissolving the coalition up for a vote. The party central committee convened on February 24 2010 and after a nine-hour meeting and a secret vote, decided overwhelmingly (124 members out of 172) to stay in power with AKEL.
Garoyian won that round but the Papadopoulos camp did not stay silent for long. The ‘hardliners’ continued to express their dissatisfaction and it wasn’t long before Garoyian suffered a severe political blow.
In the May 22 2011 parliamentary elections, Garoyian was set against EDEK leader Yiannakis Omirou for the presidency of the House. Garoyian lost when DIKO MP Zacharias Koulias decided not to back him. Garoyian’s reaction was swift and harsh.
Less than two weeks after the vote, Garoyian asked for a joint meeting of the party executive board and the party parliamentary group to decide on the expulsions of Koulias and deputy party leader George Kolokassides, whom Garoyian also accused of undermining his candidacy. After another lengthy meeting 25 DIKO members voted for the expulsion of Koulias while on a separate vote 20 voted to show Kolokassides the door.
Papadopoulos and current education minister Kyriakos Kenevezos abstained.
With the Papadopoulos camp now weakened, Garoyian steered DIKO towards backing Anastasiades’ candidacy for president in the 2013 elections.
Papadopoulos wasn’t shy in expressing his disappointment, publicly declaring his disagreement and even went as far as attending political rallies of Giorgos Lillikas, who was also candidate for president.
Papadopoulos’ apostasy cost DIKO dearly. Almost 40 per cent of party voters didn’t follow the party line. Anastasiades did win the election but it was now more than obvious that Garoyian was losing his once powerful grip over the party.
A total of just over 38,000 party members are set to vote today but it remains to be seen if either side can stick to Garoyian’s promise this week that he is willing to forgive and forget for the sake of the party come Monday.