By Constantinos Psillides
ENERGY Minister George Lakkotrypis’ resignation from DIKO at the weekend has presented the palace with a unique problem.
The minister had publicly disagreed when DIKO backed party leader Nicolas Papadopoulos’ call to abandon the government coalition over President Nicos Anastasiades’ handling of the Cyprus problem, and had joined his voice with that of the three other DIKO ministers in wanting to remain within the government.
All of the cabinet members put their resignations at the president’s disposal last Friday to facilitate a reshuffle in the wake of DIKO’s departure. The ministers of defence, health, education and energy, all DIKO members, were ordered by the party to resign but Anastasiades asked them to stay on until March 15.
This left Anastasiades needing to find a way to keep Lakkotrypis without inviting the wrath of its former coalition partner. By resigning from DIKO, Lakkotrypis has made the decision easier.
Lakkotrypis’ approval ratings are the highest among all cabinet members. A poll conducted for Sigma TV talk show ‘60 Minutes’ in October 2013 found that Lakkotrypis was viewed favourably by 51.9 per cent of the public, coming ahead of Finance Minister Harris Georgiades, who scraped together a mere 18.7 per cent.
Lakkotrypis’ popularity among the public is mostly down to the extensive media exposure he receives due to the publicity surrounding the island’s gas prospects, and the more-than competent way in which he handles it.
Also, when it comes to the Cyprus political scene, he is an outsider. Although a member of DIKO, he was never visible and was never involved with politics at the highest level. Coming with a clean slate, Lakkotrypis was a deviation from the type of Cypriot official the public was used to.
A former head of Microsoft Cyprus, Lakkotrypis is considered more a technocrat than a career politician and removing him from office might prove a setback to hydrocarbons negotiations.
But if Anastasiades wants to keep his most popular minister, he is risking the complete alienation of DIKO, not just in relation to the Cyprus talks.
All four ministers have disagreed with Papadopoulos on ditching the coalition over the talks, giving rise to speculation that a large portion of DIKO is not tightly under his control.
Given that Papadopoulos has not secured a large margin of support – the executive office voted for dissolving the coalition 22:15 while the central committee voted 97:81 – by keeping all four ministers Anastasiades will have de facto solidified the fact that there are two distinct factions with DIKO, severely undermining Papadopoulos.
A move to keep the ministers would likely be treated as extremely hostile by the DIKO leader, which could lead to strong opposition in parliament. Ruling DISY with its 20 seats and EVROKO with one, are seven seats short of securing a majority at the House, which can only be achieved with the eight votes coming from DIKO.
The most likely scenario is that Anastasiades will keep Lakkotrypis and sacrifice the other three ministers, arguing that the energy ministry is a much needed cog in the government machine, and that he is appointing him as an independent.
With government approval sliding due to austerity measures, a fierce diplomatic battle for the Cyprus problem looming over the horizon, unions declaring that “the war is not over yet” on privatisations and opposition party AKEL and EDEK gearing up for a fight whenever they get the chance, Anastasiades probably isn’t looking for a new front to start a fight.