By Constantinos Psillides
Swords are once more out in DIKO, after the party central committee decided last week to green-light the return of party members that were previously thrown out by former party leader Marios Garoyian for “undermining party unity”.
The decision made on October 25 read that “any party member that didn’t join another party is welcome to be reinstated.”
A total of 13 party members were struck off the party records after they publicly disagreed with the way Garoyian was leading the party. He first kicked out MP Zacharias Koulias and party deputy head Giorgos Kolokasides in June 2011, followed by Andreas and Simos Angelides, Tasos Kyzas, Christos Senekis, Antonis Kountouris, Michael Mallas, Kleanthis Soleas, Andreas Stavrides, Charis Sofokleous, Antri Pafiti and Christos Orfanides in September 2013.
All those shown the door had at some point sided with current party leader Nikolas Papadopoulos, who at the time was the very vocal opposition within the party.
When Papadopoulos narrowly defeated Garoyian in last year’s party leadership elections, rumours circulated that the new leader would table a proposal rescinding the party’s earlier decision.
The decision seems to concern Zacharias Koulias, a party member Papadopoulos desperately needs at his side. Koulias holds sway with Famagusta voters, a district where DIKO was always strong. Limassol and Nicosia are squarely under Garoyian’s control. Koulias’ endorsement would be a huge asset to Papadopoulos, whose position within the party is challenged at every step by the Garoyian camp.
Koulias’ return to the party is casus belli for Garoyian, who suffered a humiliating defeat thanks to the vociferous Famagusta MP. Shortly after the 2011 parliamentary election the House convened to elect a House president, with EDEK leader Yiannakis Omirou and Garoyian squaring off against each other. The DIKO leader lost the election by one vote when Koulias broke ranks and voted for Omirou, explaining that by supporting Garoyian he would approve of “the generous concessions of Dimitris Christofias to the Turkish Cypriots.”
Garoyian’s candidacy was supported by AKEL which was deemed unacceptable for the Famagusta MP. Infuriated by his defeat, Garoyian threw Koulias, followed by the others, out of the party.
Daily Kathimerini reported that Garoyian was so enraged at the party’s decision to allow Koulias to return that he stormed out of the meeting.
On Monday Garoyian accused Papadopoulos of trying to divide the party to promote his own agenda. Responding to a statement by Papadopoulos saying that he only has party unity in mind, the former leader said that this is an oxymoron.
“How can someone claim that he is promoting unity when he arbitrarily decided to put a matter up for discussion without including it in the agenda? We were told only when we got there. And how is party unity restored when the door opens for people who undermined the party in the past?,” wondered Garoyian.
Papadopoulos responded by saying that “the party’s decision was a majority one and those who oppose party unity will find DIKO supporters opposite them.”
While Koulias is the prominent reason for Papadopoulos’ decision, there are other high-profile DIKO rank and file that the party leader desperately wants reinstated. Christos Orfanides, the former head of DIKO’s Larnaca district office, is also a staunch ally of Papadopoulos. He was accused by Garoyian of openly supporting Papadopoulos and refusing to adhere to party directives in the 2013 elections, when DIKO supported President Nicos Anastasiades’ candidacy.
A month after the election, Papadopoulos submitted Orfanides’ name for appointment at the Cyprus Sports Organisation board, angering the Garoyian camp, which protested the decision saying that Orfanides shouldn’t be appointed since he had been kicked out of the party.
Christos Senekis also openly supported Papadopoulos and disagreed with the decision to side with DISY in the 2013 elections. Responding to the news of his party dismissal, Senekis said “he was proud that he wasn’t “in the trenches with the likes of Garoyian” and that he would vote for Giorgos Lillikas in the presidential election.
The leader of Citizens’ Alliance will play a pivotal role in whether the dismissed members will return to DIKO. Lillikas has met Koulias in an effort to convince him to join his party, while Andreas and Simos Angelides have already done so and show no intention of returning to DIKO.