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Our View: Parties in no position to accuse the government of electioneering

POLITICAL parties have a nerve in accusing the government of electioneering and buying votes with the decision to cut military service by 10 months. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, electioneering aimed at boosting DISY’s share of the vote in the forthcoming parliamentary elections, but why are the parties complaining? Is it because they shun populist measures and do not promote policies aimed at winning votes, or were they implying opposition parties had a monopolistic right on electioneering.

The truth is that the opposition parties engage in electioneering all the time and not just before elections, which is what they have been accusing the government of doing. It is therefore a bit rich of the champions of populist excess and crude vote-buying to criticise the government because it is behaving just like them. At least the government waits for elections to approach before announcing popular measures and tries to limit its pandering to voters, not always convincingly, the rest of the time.

But the opposition parties base all their policies and positions, at all times, on vote-winning potential. Their obstructionism and tactical tricks when the government was trying to pass the foreclosures bill were as much a form of electioneering as the cut in military service. So is their strident opposition to the privatisation of CyTA, which is set to remain in state hands and result in Cyprus not receiving the final tranche of financial assistance from international lenders. Need we also mention their ongoing attempts to stop shops opening on Sundays or rejecting the extension of the use of Larnaca port by oil companies?

None of these decisions or initiatives by the party served the good of the country, but are aimed at satisfying the demands of big interest groups which represented a significant number of votes. It was no coincidence that no party other than DISY took a stand against last week’s two-day strike by nurses, who were penalising patients to push their demand for higher entry level wages, a new allowance and promotions accompanied by increased pay. In this case, the parties did not question the timing of the industrial action and the threat of an indefinite strike at hospitals, because the nurses represent more than a thousand votes, which in a small country like Cyprus are important.

The sad truth is that almost all policy and decisions are determined by the number of votes they would gain or lose. The good of the country and the economy is of secondary importance and it is not only for the AKEL leadership that the party always comes first. Even the government is guilty of such thinking, the president’s approval rating and re-election prospects often being a major consideration in decision-making. This was why the adjustment programme was not exploited for the desperately-needed radical reform of the public sector. The government did the bare minimum, which could well prove inadequate in two or three years’ time, but the current president, like all his predecessors, is in the votes’ game.

At least the Anastasiades government has taken a few unpopular decisions and acted responsibly during the adjustment programme, which is much more than can be said about the parties. It restored the country’s trustworthiness in the EU, by fulfilling all memorandum obligations despite the best effort of the political parties to derail the process with their electioneering. What the parties failed to do during the programme, however, they will do now by not approving the bills for the privatisation of CyTA and blocking the final instalment of the financial assistance. Is this for the good of the country or for the benefit of a couple of thousand workers – again a sizeable number of votes – that have been plundering the organisation for decades and want to carry on doing so?

In the case of defence, the parties would have us believe that it is above party interests and votes, which is untrue because they all believe that buying new, expensive weapons or bolstering the National Guard are big vote winners. Glafcos Clerides won a second presidential term by ordering missiles from Russia. Opposition parties may have been complaining that the announcement on reducing the length of military service was an electoral ploy that would weaken the National Guard, but they are not that concerned about national security to demand that the 24-month service would be kept. That would lose votes, which is the only thing that really matters.

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