By Loucas Charalambous
ROTATING presidency, we are told, is one of the three “big thorns” preventing the achievement of a settlement. Anastasiades and Akinci both claim that this is a “red line” for them. There is little doubt that on this issue the Turkish side will refuse to budge. On this issue it is right. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for the Turkish side to be persuaded to participate in a federal state which ruled out any Turkish Cypriot from occupying the highest post in the state structure for a period of time.
It is important to note that if the Turkish Cypriot community eventually secures the rotating presidency, its exercise would be different from the one envisaged by the Annan plan which placed it within the framework of a federal council. Now it would be exercised within the framework of a new agreed structure for executive authority featuring a president and vice-president. This is the only point on which Nicolas Papadopoulos is correct; some time ago, he said he preferred a rotating presidency in a federal council rather than in a government with a president and vice-president.
Below is a brief account of how the matter developed. In the final version of the Annan plan (31/3/2004) which was put to the referendum, it was proposed the executive authority would consist of a six-member council (four Greek Cypriots and two Turkish Cypriots). Two of these members would alternate as the president of the council which would have a five-year term. The Greek Cypriot would hold the presidency for two thirds of the term (40 months) and the Turkish Cypriot for one third (20 months).
I would also like to note that Ethnarch Tassos Papadopoulos did not dare dispute the rotating presidency based on a federal council. In the document with proposed, extensive improvements to the Annan plan that was delivered to UN Under-Secretary-General Kieran Prendergast in the summer of 2005 by the Papadopoulos emissaries – Andreas Mavroyianis and Tasos Tzionis – no change was sought in relation to the rotating presidency provision.
They asked for changes to the decision-making procedure, proposing that these were determined by majority. In the original plan, despite the numerical advantage of the Greek Cypriots on the council, voting was equal. Papadopoulos proposed that two members would have the right to refer any decision they disagreed with to the supreme court. The right of the president and vice-president of the federal council to veto decisions was also accepted.
I repeat, these were official proposals for changes to the Annan plan submitted to the UN by the then President Papadopoulos so his son would do well to keep quiet today instead of accusing President Anastasiades of making proposals that were supposedly reminiscent of the Annan plan. He would also do well to keep quiet rather than vociferously demand the immediate withdrawal of the Turkish army, return of all refugees, departure of all settlers and return of territory before a settlement, because his father, in his document to the UN, in addition to accepting 30,000 settlers remaining, agreed to the gradual implementation of all the above (as was envisaged by the Annan plan), though he sought smaller time-frames.
Returning to the original issue, it should be said that the reason a rotating presidency would be more painful now is down to the personal ambitions of Demetris Christofias who wasted the first 18 months of his negotiations with Mehmet Ali Talat by discussing only this issue and trying to persuade the Turkish Cypriot leader to abandon the federal council and replace it with a government consisting of president, vice president and ministers.
This was because in the event of a settlement he was banking on becoming the president of the federal government, rather than a member of the federal council. “Cyprus cannot not have a president whom the rest of the world knows,” he would say. The damage he caused was greater than the damage he had caused Omonia.
Unfortunately, Anastasiades, presumably making the same cunning calculation, instead of bringing back the provision about the federal council, which was also acceptable to the Turkish side, insisted on keeping the change made by Christofias, despite knowing that in the end he would be forced to accept the rotating presidency and forget his “red line” if he wants there to be a deal.
The handling of this issue alone illustrates the incompetence, irresponsibility and stupidity that has prevailed in our handling of the national problem.