By Constantinos Psillides
A TOTAL of 18,203 registered Paphos voters will be heading to the polls today, to decide who among the record eight candidates will take the reins of the disgraced municipality and try and steer it towards a better future.
The election will commence at 7.00am and wrap up at 6.00pm with a one hour break at noon. Results are expected no later than 8.00pm.
While the election has been much publicised, the scandal-weary Paphites are apparently showing little sign they are eager to leave their homes on a cold, winter Sunday to exercise their voting rights.
Polls conducted over the last week showed an abstention level of nearly 40 per cent, compared to 17.6 per cent in the 2013 presidential elections.
One cannot blame the disillusioned Paphos residents. Events that forced the early mayoral elections have shocked the public as they learned of a deep seated corruption system that lived off the town’s taxes for years.
Worst of all, people from all major parliamentary parties are accused of being involved, further strengthening the notion that nothing will essentially change once the new mayor gets voted in office.
The elections were announced by Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos in December, after former mayor Savvas Vergas stepped down on December 2. Vergas resigned his post following an avalanche of alleged scandals including a shady land deal, death threats sent to municipal councillors and a reporter, a tennis court built on public property and the town’s Sewerage Board (SAPA) scandal, in which contractors admitted to bribing officials so they could secure government contracts. The officials then would inflate the project’s budget, taking in some of the profit.
The former mayor, SAPA manager Eftychios Malekkides, former municipal DIKO councillor Efstathios Efstathiou, former DISY councillor Giorgos Michaelides, former AKEL councillor Vasos Vasileiou and current AKEL councillor Giorgos Sialis are currently on trial on corruption and bribery charges.
Despite the public’s discontent, political parties opted to revert back to type instead of pushing for a real change in their choice of candidate. While initial reports said that parties would present a unified front and choose a common candidate, they ended up splitting among opposition lines. On the one side, main opposition parties AKEL, DIKO and
EDEK backed one candidate – Aristos Vasiliades – leaving governing party DISY with the only option of backing a candidate – Fedonas Fedonos – of their own.
The other parliamentary parties, Greens and the Citizens’ Alliance went ahead with their own candidates, rejecting the notion of a common candidate from the start.
The two biggest issues faced by the municipality now is clearing all nests of corruption and getting the town ready for 2017, when the town will receive the mantle of Europe’s cultural capital. The latter is a daunting task since out of the initial 36 projects included in the town’s bid, only eight have been green-lighted. The cost for these projects is estimated at €26 million, €22 of which has still not released by the interior ministry, which handles European funding.
The candidates in unison have also pledged to fix the town’s roads that are in shambles following the work done on the sewerage system.
All of the candidates have put these issues top of their agenda. But, as they told the Sunday Mail, they do have others.
Andreas Chrysanthou, a municipal councillor who is standing as an independent candidate, says that close to the top of the agenda should be getting the municipality mechanism working again.
“The whole system is now in shambles. Nobody answers to anyone. It’s chaos right now. We need to show that someone is in charge. We need to get the town back on track,” says Chrysanthou, jokingly adding that the second thing he will do is set up a tent outside the interior ministry until the funding for Paphos 2017 is released.
“Paphos desperately needs this. It will create jobs, boost tourism and increase the town’s revenue so we are willing to do anything to get it,” explains Chrysanthou.
Another Chrysanthou, Chrysanthos – no relation to Andreas – notes that revamping the old town of Paphos will be in his priorities. A well-known TV and theatre actor -currently appearing in The Stone River, a historical period drama broadcasted by CyBC – Chrysanthou argues that the 28 of October Square is “unparallel in beauty in the whole of Europe and not showcasing that beauty is a grievous mistake”. Chrysanthou also pledges to utilise the Paphos ancient theatre by establishing an international theatre festival, similar to that of the Greek Epidaurus theatre festival.
DISY backed Fedonas Fedonos has pledged to set up safeguards so that the SAPA scandal can never be repeated.
“I will push for an 8 per cent maximum limit on budget increases, after the contracts are signed. Contractors who want to work with the municipality will have to submit bids that are as accurate as possible because anything more that 8 per cent, will come out of their pockets,” said Fedonos.
The DISY candidate told the Sunday Mail that he would also push for an improvement in services offered so Paphos could attract “a better quality” tourism.
Asked to respond to the criticism that he is essentially a party candidate, Fedonos argued that he clashed with his party on a number of occasions during his three years as a Paphos councillor and that he had been battling alone when he tried to blow the lid off the corruption scandal. Fedonos, a local reporter for daily Politis and a municipality employee all received death threats from Vergas when the case first started unravelling.
Sophia Hambiaouridou, a former model and journalist is the only woman candidate. Hambiaouridou told the press that she is running for mayor because she had had enough of corruption and never wanted to have to say to her children that “there was once a town called Paphos.”
Andreas Masouras, the Greens’ candidate and at 34, also the youngest, places transparency above all. In an interview he gave to the Sunday Mail last week he pointed out that even if the town gets back on its feet financially, it will accomplish nothing without full transparency.
Masouras’ strongest card appears to be with the around 12 per cent of voters who are non-native Cypriots, since he is the only one hosting events in English. The young lecturer at the Neapolis University never misses an opportunity to remind voters that the Greens were the only parliamentary party that did not have a seat at the Paphos municipal council and therefore cannot be tarred with the brush of corruption.
Vangelis Mavronikolas, a well-known architect based in Paphos is perhaps the candidate with most detailed plan.
“I have put forth a 49-point plan, explaining what my intentions are for the city in detail. Also included in the plan are specific projects that I think will boost local economy and revitalise the city centre and the sea front,” said Mavronikolas, who also made a tangible contribution to the municipality. His office has drafted the blueprints for the new municipal building free of charge.
“And this is not just in the case I am elected mayor. The blueprints will be handed over to the municipality regardless. We have been working together with the municipality in a number of projects and we won’t stop now,” he told the Sunday Mail.
EVROKO candidate Doros Pafitis, who holds a doctorate in oceanography from the university of Cyprus, has focused his campaign message on rejecting any ties to big parliamentary parties, which he holds responsible for everything that happened in Paphos. “Party alliances happening in the name of so called ‘consent’ is merely a façade, an attempt at a cover up by the establishment,” he said in an interview.
Aristos Vasiliades, a chartered accountant with a degree in economics from the London School of Economics, is perhaps the candidate with the toughest task despite the support of three political parties. While Vasiliades maintains that his candidacy is an independent one, he is backed by AKEL, DIKO and EDEK.
Asked to respond to the links of most parties to the recent scandals, Vasiliades says that it is not parties that have to answer to the court but individuals.
“Party members are suspected of corruption and for that they will be tried in court. That’s what’s happening in Paphos. Parties didn’t just came and set up a corruption ring to get kickbacks. Individuals are suspected of that, who happened to be party members,” argued Vasiliades.
The candidate said that he will be focusing on three items if he is elected mayor: eradicating corruption, getting the town ready for 2017 and getting back the money squandered on the sewerage project.