PRESIDENT Anastasiades must have regretted attending the opening of the 22nd AKEL Conference on Thursday. Although he had been warned he would come under criticism in the speech of party leader Andros Kyprianou he said he had not been prepared for the intensity of the attack. Kyprianou accused the president of deceiving voters, lying, looking after his personal and family interests, being in cahoots with the troika, arranging show trials, appointing unsuitable people and being an ineffective president.
The question everyone was asking afterwards was why had the president agreed to subject himself to such a humiliating experience. Perhaps he had not expected the AKEL chief to have been so abusive and vicious, but even if the criticism was polite, he had no obligation to sit in the front row of the auditorium and take it. There were other ways for him to display his gratitude to AKEL for the public backing it is offering him on the Cyprus problem, than showing up in person for a speech he knew he would be the main target of.
His presence and willingness to brave the criticism was an illustration of his desire to secure the broadest possible political backing for the efforts to reach a deal with the Turkish Cypriots. Kyprianou had assured the president of the communist party’s support in private meetings but also repeated it in the most emphatic way in his conference speech on Thursday, thus openly encouraging people to back the peace process. Anastasiades is very aware of the importance of winning over the public and creating a pro-settlement sentiment in society and is prepared to go to any length to achieve it.
Having the full backing of the two biggest parties is all he needs, at least for now, even though he has not given up on the small anti-settlement parties. However, pandering to DIKO, EDEK and the Alliance in the vain hope that they would eventually jump on the solution bandwagon is a mistake, because their objectives are mutually exclusive. What common ground could there be with parties that are against the bi-zonal, bi-communal federation and have pledged to oppose it? There is none and the reality is that the political leadership is split into two camps which cannot avoid confrontation.
Under the circumstances it is absurd carrying on having National Council meetings, attended by party leaders who are openly against the type of settlement the president is committed to negotiating. What positive or meaningful advice could they offer to these meetings when their objective is the failure of the peace process? It is a bit like inviting small shopkeepers to a meeting that will discuss Sunday opening for all shops; they will do everything they could to defeat the object of the meeting.
Anastasiades was given a wake-up call of how the National Council could threaten the process after Thursday’s meeting. An hour after he had given the leaders the government’s proposed list of confidence building measures it had been leaked to the press and the next day party representatives were on the radio shows complaining that the CBMs gave too much away to the Turkish side. The list had been made public before it had been discussed with the Turkish Cypriot side which might not agree to all the measures, something that could be exploited by the parties in their campaign against the talks.
As the talks get into deeper waters and the two leaders are discussing more important issues relating to a settlement, it would be a colossal mistake for Anastasiades to carry on briefing the National Council because he would be handing party leaders information that would be used selectively and out of context to turn public opinion against a settlement. We still remember the lies and misinformation used by the ‘no’ campaign before the 2004 referendum.
Access to information that can be used to undermine support for the peace process is the only reason the party leaders opposed to a settlement attend National Council meetings. If they had integrity they would have refused to attend these meeting that were discussing a settlement they strongly believed was undemocratic, racist and bad for the Greek Cypriots. But as they would never do such a thing, the president should draw the line. He should announce that the party leaders that agreed with the February 2014 joint declaration and supported a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation were welcome to attend National Council meetings.
Alternatively he could scrap the National Council and just hold meetings with the leaders of AKEL and DISY because he will never forge a united front with the anti-settlement demagogues that would have no political future without the Cyprus problem.