THE SAGA over the House President came to a conclusion on Thursday with the unexpected election of Demetris Syllouris, a deputy of the fledgling Solidarity Movement who was greatly favoured by circumstances and President Anastasiades. Rather than see EDEK boss Marinos Sizopoulos become House president Anastasiades urged DISY to back Syllouris’ candidacy despite the resistance of its leader Averof Neophytou.
So now we have as House president a deputy who had quit DISY in 2005 because he disagreed with the party’s pro-settlement stance and is now a member of a party led by Eleni Theocharous, who quit DISY last year also because she disagreed with its pro-settlement stance. And he was elected on Thursday by the votes of DISY’s deputies, not because they agreed with his and Solidarity’s anti-settlement stance but on orders from Anastasiades, who wanted another three deputies backing the government in the House.
Before the final vote, Neophytou told his parliamentary group that if he saw developments that would have led to a settlement he would have made the big leap and backed the candidacy of the AKEL leader, regardless of the political cost. But as he could see no settlement, he complied with the president’s wishes. Press speculation suggested Anastasiades’ backing for Syllouris was a sign that he has set his sights on a second term; he supposedly wants a supportive House president and the two Solidarity deputies to help the government through the remaining two years of his term.
But even with the support of Solidarity, which is far from certain, as its absent leader has her own presidential election agenda, the government will not have the numbers to pass any legislation through the House (21 votes in a 56-seat parliament). The government will have great difficulty securing a majority for any bills, which will not involve spending money, because the opposition parties have a big majority.
DIKO, which helped the government pass several unpopular memorandum bills, is very unlikely to display a spirit of co-operation in the new parliament because its leader also appears to have set his sights on the next presidential elections. His party’s support of the candidacy of Marinos Sizopoulos illustrated his intention to lay claim to the title of leader of the centre parties. All, except Solidarity, followed his lead in Thursday’s vote. Nicolas Papadopoulos is certain to fight every mildly unpopular government bill in order to maintain his role as figurehead of the opposition parties of the centre.
With a weakened AKEL looking to win back its supporters, it is highly unlikely the government will get any reform bills through parliament such as privatisations, restructuring of the civil service, autonomy of hospitals and so forth. The confrontation between the executive and the legislature will probably intensify, with plenty of bills being sent back by the president or being referred to the Supreme Court. There is a very real danger of an unworkable relationship developing, threatening the economy’s recovery and putting public finances under unnecessary strain.
Our politicians have always been inclined to pursue their personal agendas and put aside the interests of the country, and we fear this phenomenon will be the main feature of political life until the 2018 presidential elections. We will have a legislature intent on preventing the executive from governing and an increasingly desperate president, eyeing a second term, knowing that only money-wasting populist measures would be approved by the opposition majority. The frightening thing is that we cannot rely on either side to put their personal agendas aside and act responsibly for the good of the country.
The only hope of avoiding a destructive executive-legislature stand-off would be a Cyprus settlement that would lead to new elections and radical changes to the political scene. How likely is this though? On the day of the election in the House, Anastasiades met Mustafa Akinci and they agreed to start intensified talks on Wednesday, but few would bet on them reaching a deal by the end of the year, the target they had set last month.
Even if they remain committed to this goal they will both have hostile parliaments to deal with in the event they reach agreement. Anastasiades’ commitment, however, seems to be wavering (Neophytou must have based his pessimistic forecast on this) and he may well be more comfortable with an uncooperative parliament than the upheaval a settlement would cause.