YIANNAKIS Omirou’s decision to step down as leader of EDEK was reported as a big surprise. The media spoke about a shock decision while politicians commented on its suddenness and admitted that it was not expected. It is true there was no indication that Omirou was considering stepping down and that his announcement came out of the blue, but there was a deeper cause for the surprise.
In Cyprus we have not been accustomed to a party leader giving up his position. Only once, since 1976 when all four main parties were in existence (EDEK and AKEL were established earlier) has a party leader unexpectedly resigned. Yiannakis Matsis stepped down as DISY chief in 1997 after just four years in the post, which was a very brief tenure by Cyprus standards. Others – Glafcos Clerides, Tassos Papadopoulos, Demetris Christofias, Nicos Anastasiades – left their respective party leadership when they were elected president, but Clerides and Anastasiades were at the helm of DISY each for 17 years and Christofias was AKEL chief for 21.
Spyros Kyprianou gave up the DIKO leadership after 24 years Dr Lyssarides left EDEK after 33 years in charge while Christofias’ predecessor, Ezekias Papaioannou died in the job having been AKEL chief for 40 years. This was why everyone was so surprised to hear that Omirou had resigned after only 12 years as leader at the relatively young age of 63. Being a party leader is a long-term job, unless something better, like the presidency of the Republic, comes up.
The party has always been a personal vehicle for the leader, who treats it like a family business. For instance, after Lyssarides grudgingly left the leadership of EDEK, aged 82, he was declared honorary president for life and continues to interfere in party affairs to this day. He had chosen his successor just as Christofias chose his at AKEL. That Garoyian only managed six years at DIKO before losing a leadership election was because Nicholas Papadopoulos felt the leadership was his hereditary right.
This failure of the parties to produce new leaders regularly is a symptom of the general political malaise. The only concern of each leader is to hold on to his position and to achieve this, runs the party autocratically, promoting yes-men, crushing dissent and sidelining anyone considered a threat. Inevitably, there is no dynamism, no fresh thinking and no political talent produced in the party system which is no place for young, intelligent and ambitious people.
It was indeed a big surprise that Omirou stepped down after only 12 years in charge. His leadership may have been a failure, but this has never before been considered a reason for a party leader to resign.