By Angelos Anastasiou
ESCALATION or resolution of the battle over the 2015 government budget has come down to former coalition partners DIKO, who are the only party yet to decide on whether to support or oppose it.
At the moment, four parliamentary groups – AKEL, EDEK, the Greens and the Citizens’ Alliance – have decided to vote against the government’s proposal, arguing it does not facilitate growth and can only contribute to recession. The four parties’ decision translates to a 26-strong ‘no’ vote in the House, out of a total 56 deputies.
Even as the largest single bloc in the House with 20 elected parliamentarians, ruling DISY finds itself unable to pass the budget independently, and coalition partners EVROKO’s decision to support it with their single vote has been little consolation.
At this point, DIKO, along with former DIKO MP Zacharias Koulias – an independent after being expelled from the party by previous leader Marios Garoyian – remain the only unknowns as they have not yet publicly positioned themselves on the government budget.
That elevates DIKO’s eight votes to race-deciders, once more leaving the country’s third-largest party in a position to seek concessions from either side in order to determine the outcome – if the eight DIKO deputies vote as a bloc, Koulias’ vote will have no impact.
But that’s a fairly sizeable ‘if’ – the fight between leader Nicolas Papadopoulos and the internal opposition faction rallying around his pro-government predecessor Marios Garoyian flared up again last week, over the issue of reinstating party members expelled by the previous leadership, indicating the war rages on despite a recent lull.
And during February’s voting of the government’s privatisations bill, the dissenting group within the party proved it is not above breaking ranks and voting independently.
“DIKO will review the government budget and position itself following debate in the parliamentary group, perhaps today, or in the coming days,” the party’s spokeswoman Christiana Erotocritou told the Cyprus News Agency yesterday.
In a statement later in the, the party used language similar to that used by the four parties that have already announced their ‘no’ vote to blast Finance minister Harris Georgiades, possibly foreshadowing a negative decision.
“A budget of stagnation and not stability, as the Finance minister claims, which presents inherent weaknesses and a strong recessionary nature,” DIKO said.
“It is obvious that this budget will bear the seals of the Troika and the Memorandum [of Understanding], in the complete absence of growth measures that could boost the real economy, and the dramatic shrinking of the social welfare state.”
Last February, newly-elected leader Papadopoulos led the party out of the government coalition formed by DISY and Garoyian’s DIKO last year, citing disagreements with President Nicos Anastasiades over the handling of the Cyprus problem peace talks, but pledged to maintain a “responsible stance” on matters relating to the country’s reform obligations arising from a €10-billion emergency bailout loan from international creditors.
This was understood to mean DIKO would help pass reform bills even as an opposition party, a perception seemingly corroborated by Papadopoulos’ initially careful balancing act of Cyprus-problem criticism and support of reform efforts.
But it wasn’t long before a policy shift set in – Papadopoulos soon adopted anti-Troika rhetoric and argued that some of the assumptions of the economic adjustment programme should be “renegotiated,” culminating in September’s clash with the government over tougher foreclosures law and a failed attempt by opposition parties to legislate a watered-down version.
Many have attributed Papadopoulos’ shift to harbouring presidential aspirations, which necessitated a complete break with government policies in order to approach opposition AKEL with a view to securing its support in the 2018 elections.
This could mean that a ‘no’ vote by DIKO isn’t off the table. Although defeating the budget would not necessarily place the government in the midst of a political storm, it would almost certainly reduce its capability of implementing economic strategy to a significant extent.
According to the constitution of Cyprus, such a case would trigger a deadlock-breaking mechanism allowing the House to authorise government expenditure – no higher than the previous year’s budgeted provisions – on a monthly basis, until a budget deal can be struck.