By Constantinos Psillides
A LONG DAY dawns on Saturday for DIKO’s election committee officials when they regulate and monitor the biggest and most complicated internal elections the party has ever seen.
After a December 1 confrontation between Nicolas Papadopoulos and Marios Garoyian that decided the party leadership, DIKO members will now vote for every other post in their party, from deputy heads to secretaries of local and district committees.
But with DIKO being part of the ruling coalition and the party that regularly holds the balance of political power, all eyes are fixed on today’s election which will decide whether Papadopoulos’ win over Garoyian is cemented with the ouster of the latter’s supporters.
Until last week, all the signs indicated that the Papadopoulos camp was headed towards an easy win. But then came the joint communiqué on the parameters of a solution to the Cyprus problem between President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu.
Anastasiades’ long but finally successful effort at issuing the joint declaration with the Turkish Cypriot leadership to jump-start talks caused an uproar in the ranks of the hardliners, of whom Papadopoulos is considered an unofficial leader.
Papadopoulos warned the president that if he signed the communique and started talks, his party would dissolve the governing coalition.
Anastasiades’ response was defiant. Knowing full well that party elections were to be held this Sunday, the president extended a formal invitation to Garoyian to come to the palace. They didn’t say what they discussed. Neither of them made any public statements, but the message was loud and clear. Papadopoulos was no longer considered a friend and the Presidential Palace believes DIKO has another leader on standby.
Back in December, when DIKO held leadership elections, the press reported that President Anastasiades favoured Garoyian over Papadopoulos, as he regarded the son of former president Tassos Papadopoulos a hard-liner and a potential thorn if the peace talks ever recommenced. The general consensus back then was that Papadopoulos would dissolve the government alliance by leaving the coalition if he won the DIKO leadership.
Reports were so wide-spread that Papadopoulos had to come out and state publicly that he would not abandon the government, provided that “the president keeps his promises”. Papadopoulos was referring of course to the assurances the president had given DIKO before the 2013 presidential elections, that the Annan plan was “dead and buried”, and that “the Annan plan in any form won’t be put back on the table”.
A promise Papadopoulos now thinks the president has broken.
Papadopoulos’ victory over Garoyian in December was marginal, 51 per cent over 49 per cent, and the former leader of DIKO still has enough power within the party. Anastasiades’ apparent endorsement of Garoyian, along with the government appointments that go with it, have made a lot of DIKO members think twice about voting for Papadopoulos supporters. What should have been a smooth ride now has turn into an ugly confrontation among supporters of the two leaders.
And even if that wasn’t enough for Papadopoulos to deal with, he has to wait and see what the son of another former president will do. Marcos Kyprianou, son of Spyros Kyprianou is staging a political comeback after his involvement in the Mari naval blast incident (he was foreign minister at the time) and is a friend of neither of the two DIKO leaders.
Kyprianou still wields a heavy bat in the Limassol district, where he has a lot of support. Kyprianou is up for deputy head and is considered a favourite for the position. A rising Kyprianou would surely be a threat for Papadopoulos, who is now seeing his opponents grow in number.
In addition to asserting his authority, Papadopoulos needs a victory by a large margin for another reason. Under internal regulations, he and the central committee cannot just decide to break away from the government. And if he takes the issue to a vote and loses it, or even wins but by a small margin, it will spell the end of Papadopoulos.
If Garoyian garners enough support he could easily divide DIKO, take half the party with him and open for them a host of government positions in the Anastasiades government, previously held by Papadopoulos supporters. The palace of course would welcome such a move, as it will cripple the largest party within the “denialists” front.
Anastasiades is expected to take a lot heat in the coming months, and having the party that traditionally led the charge against a compromise with the Turkish Cypriot leadership divided would be a major relief for the government