SOLIDARITY movement leader Eleni Theocharous’ controversial decision to keep her post in the European parliament and pass on the seat she won in last week’s parliamentary elections to the party’s next-in-line, Georgios Papadopoulos, may be against the law, according to a letter sent by lawyer Charalambos Prountzos to Chief Returning Officer Constantinos Nicolaides.
Theocharous’ four-month old political formation won a surprise three seats in parliament, after incorporating EVROKO into its ranks two months before election day. Demetris Syllouris and Michalis Yiorgallas each clinched a seat along with their new leader.
But the MEP, it turned out, decided to pass the seat she won to Yiorgos Papadopoulos, the party’s candidate immediately trailing her vote tally – crucially announcing her decision the day after the elections, prompting cries of foul play from other parties who claim she effectively usurped the vote of people who thought they were sending her to parliament, not runner-up Papadopoulos.
The incident followed yet more controversy surrounding Theocharous’ decision to keep her seat in the European parliament after leaving DISY, the party with which she won it, last November. At the time, she had claimed many of the votes that won her the MEP seat were “personal votes”, an argument she avoided in this case – Theocharous was elected to the Cyprus parliament with 3,788 votes, while Papadopoulos won 767, about one-fifth.
“As we had pledged during the campaign, the decision whether the chairwoman of Solidarity would maintain the Europarliament spot or not would be made by the party’s collective bodies, primarily on the basis of safeguarding the country’s interests,” the party had announced on Monday.
“Following assessment of yesterday’s results, Solidarity decided that Eleni Theocharous continues her work at the European parliament, defending the interests of the Cypriot people at the European level. We believe this best serves the Cypriot people’s interests, ahead of significant developments relating to the Cyprus problem.”
Left unaddressed, and exposing Theocharous to criticism, was the reason why the decision had to be made after the elections. Detractors charged that this was a tactical move to make sure the party’s campaign, largely focused on Theocharous’ persona, wouldn’t suffer.
But the point could be rendered moot if Prountzos, a private lawyer, is right in his argument to the chief returning officer. In a letter dated May 25, he claimed that the law does not allow for vacating a parliamentary seat until an MP has been sworn in – which is incompatible with the capacity of MEP. Seats left unclaimed by successful candidates before the new parliament is in session would trigger a by-election “within 45 days”.
In other words, if Theocharous wants to pass her seat to the party’s runner-up, she will have to be sworn in as deputy first, which requires that she vacates the European parliament seat; otherwise, her seat will be claimed in a by-election sometime next month.
Against this backdrop, Theocharous faces yet more trouble, as press reports claim that Solidarity members have started complaining that former EVROKO officials are taking up all of the party’s seats. If given the seat despite the legal tangle, Papadopoulos, formerly an EVROKO man, would join former EVROKO leader Syllouris and spokesman Yiorgallas as Solidarity’s representatives in parliament.