By Angelos Anastasiou
THREE new ministers were sworn in yesterday amid reports that President Nicos Anastasiades had decided to appoint former Education Minister Kyriacos Kenevezos and former Defence Minister Fotis Fotiou ambassador to Greece and presidential aide respectively.
As DIKO members, the two, along with former Health Minister Petros Petrides, fell victim to this week’s cabinet reshuffle, which was triggered when the party’s leadership decided to withdraw from the government coalition – in which they were junior partners – citing disagreement over the terms agreed by Anastasiades for the resumption of negotiations on the Cyprus problem.
They were replaced by Costas Kadis, who took the education portfolio, Marios Demetriades, who will head the communications ministry, and Philippos Patsalis, assigned the health ministry.
Former Communications Minister Tasos Mitsopoulos was re-assigned the defence ministry.
Fourth DIKO member, Energy Minister George Lakkotrypis remained in his post. He resigned from DIKO earlier this month.
Speaking at the affirmation ceremony yesterday, Anastasiades implied he had been forced to accept the resignation of the DIKO ministers.
“I admit being faced with torturous dilemmas that pitted constitutional obligations and political ethics against human feelings towards esteemed associates,” he said, adding that in the end “personal feelings had to take a backseat to the duty of being president, and in the interest of preserving unity I was saddened to accept the resignation of three close and esteemed associates.”
DIKO’s decision to exit was heavily criticised by an extremely vocal fraction within the party, which included the four ministers, stirring up talk of “two DIKOs”, one aligning with the official leadership of Nicolas Papadopoulos and another rallying behind his predecessor Marios Garoyian – who had forged the alliance with Anastasiades when he held the party’s reins.
“I was faced with the option of respecting a groundless and unjustified decision or accept the rules of ethics as they have been shaped in our political system”, Anastasiades said of DIKO’s departure.
Perhaps hoping to retain their posts, the four ministers broke party ranks shortly after the decision to leave the government was ratified and waived their party membership in protest, with former health minister Petrides claiming that Anastasiades had confided in him a few days before the reshuffle was announced that he was “considering keeping the cabinet intact.” He later retracted the assertion.
Despite initial reports that Anastasiades would keep all four DIKO ministers, reports claimed a last-minute intervention by DISY leader Averof Neophytou changed things, leading to the removal of Kenevezos, Fotiou and Petrides.
However, speculation was rife yesterday that Anastasiades had decided to appoint Kenevezos to the Athens embassy to replace current ambassador Phaedon Anastasiou, and add Fotiou to his team of aides at the presidential palace, with sources suggesting he was headed for the diplomatic office.
Appointing DIKO members – or former members – has not been bloodless for Anastasiades, as DIKO leader Papadopoulos has unleashed scathing attacks on the president, accusing him of inappropriate politicking and attempting to undermine his party.
“We made a clear decision which enables the president to move forward based on his own decisions, but unfortunately he has not extended us the same courtesy,” he said.
Anastasiades rebuffed the politicking charges and argued that, while he has always respected opposition, he maintains the sole right to staff his government.
“Our respect to opposition, whether justified or unjustified, is a given,” he said.
“I want to reaffirm that the right to select the people who will form the government belongs to the President alone,” he added.
“My only criterion is the country’s best interest, not party games.”