By Constantinos Psillides
THE four DIKO ministers serving in the coalition were yesterday said to be furious that the party’s executive ruled they should not resign until March 4, a week after the central committee is expected to ratify – or not – Friday’s vote to quit the government.
Reports suggested that the ministers were given until March 4 to resign only in order to be able to collect the bonus they are entitled to when they complete one year in office. That falls on March 1. The reports sparked public outrage, with people calling on President Nicos Anastasiades to reshuffle his cabinet immediately.
The Sunday Mail has learned however, that at least one DIKO cabinet member, Energy Minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis, would leave office immediately if the central committee, this coming Wednesday, rubberstamps the executive body’s vote.
Lakkotrypis, who is seen as an extremely competent and popular minister, tweeted that “having experienced last night’s [Friday’s] events, my options are now clear”.
The other ministers were silent yesterday on the bonus issue, neither denying nor confirming they would follow the energy minster’s example and resign immediately.
But it was reported that during Friday’s eight-hour marathon they had accused the executive, and DIKO leader Nicolas Papadopoulos, of making them a target of public ridicule by suggesting the date in question.
Health Minister, Petros Petrides was yesterday quoted as saying that executive’s March-4 ruling had served only to portray the ministers as money-hungry.
Petrides, talking on Astra Radio, spoke of “this public humiliation”, and accused Papadopoulos of trying to pass a motion during Friday’s meeting that would forbid the four ministers from voting on whether DIKO should remain in the coalition. DIKO spokeswoman Christiana Erotokritou had refused to comment on the accusations, the radio station reported.
Defence Minister Fotis Fotiou yesterday limited himself to a Facebook posting saying it was time to show responsibility towards the country. “These critical times call for political stability and national unity,” he posted.
There was no comment yesterday from the fourth DIKO minister, Education’s Kyriacos Kenevezos.
It is believed all four do not want to leave the cabinet and on Friday had voted in favour of staying in the coalition.
Only last week, the four DIKO ministers met on an unrelated subject but in their public statements called for unity among political parties, a sideswipe at Papadopoulos.
In fact it appears that Papadopoulos – the main advocate for dissolving the coalition had a hard time convincing all the members of the executive on the merits of his proposal to withdraw, which are based on Anastasiades’ handling of the Cyprus problem.
Friday’s decision was split with 22 members of the executive in favour of withdrawing to 15 against and two abstentions – MP Fytos Constantinou and Morphou district committee chair Andreas Meraklis.
Papadopoulos has been in a tit-for-tat correspondence of legalese with Anastasiades for weeks over the content of the joint declaration that cleared the way for Cyprus negotiations to begin on February 11.
He insists Anastasiades has broken his pre-election pledge to DIKO – without whose support he would not have been elected – and that the declaration was nothing more than a resurrection of the hated 2004 Annan plan.
Long-time Papadopoulos rival and former DIKO leader himself, Marios Garoyian, told Sigma TV that he believes that the party shouldn’t leave the coalition but should instead stay “monitor the situation up close so the party can maintain its regulatory role”. However Garoyian made clear that, as a life-long party man, he would respect the central committee’s decision, whatever it might be. Garoyian was narrowly defeated by Papadopoulos on December 1, last year – 51 per cent to 49 per cent – and still holds sway among the party base.
DIKO’s deputy head Marcos Kyprianou also seems to be of the opinion that the party shouldn’t act hastily in withdrawing. Reports say that in his speech before the executive, Kyprianou called for a meeting with Anastasiades to discuss his intentions on the Cyprus problem.
Also, it is clear that since the second phase of the DIKO elections, Papadopoulos’ control over the central committee is far from tight. An overthrow of his proposal on Wednesday would be a major defeat for the new party president and call his leadership into serious doubt.
And while DIKO struggles to deal with internal strife, the palace has made it clear it would not interfere.
Government spokesman Christos Stylianides said in written statement yesterday that Anastasiades was determined to maintain stability in the country and would wait for DIKO to complete their internal procedures before making any decisions.
“The government respects all political party internal procedures and as a matter of principle does not interfere,” said Stylianides, adding that the president was determined to go through with his plan for the economy and to keep trying to find a solution to the Cyprus problem.
However, a DIKO withdrawal would in fact leave Anastasiades free to forge ahead with settlement talks without having to pander to his junior partners who are widely seen as favouring the status quo over a federal settlement.
Stylianides said Anastasiades had not broken promises made to DIKO on the Cyprus issue, and would continue to honour the agreement he made prior to his election.
He said the joint declaration was not the final solution but merely a starting point for negotiations.
Ruling DISY leader, Averof Neophytou said yesterday that any decision made by DIKO would be respected. He said DISY would not forget DIKO’s support “in the effort to bring stability to the Cypriot economy”.
Neophytou also said his party wanted to hold on to the bridges with DIKO for the good of the country.
“Times are tough for our country and political instability will not help us to stabilise the economy,” he said.
DIKO said in its statement on Friday night the party would maintain a “responsible stance” in parliament when it came to legislation relating to the island’s bailout programme.