Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist Opinion

Taking the sting out of a rotating presidency

The closed area of Famagusta

Job share and gender equality, a new opportunity for Cyprus’ top job

By Alper Ali Riza

President Anastasiades said the other day that ‘where there is a will there is a way’ thus maintaining the momentum for a solution that is now virtually unstoppable. He gave further impetus to sorting out the most intractable aspects of the political problem in Cyprus while he was in New York, where the UN secretary-general will push in one final heave to carry the Cyprus problem forward to the next phase – the crucial referendum stage.

I have a feeling that Anastasiades and Akinci do not just have the will to agree a solution between themselves, they also have the will-power to cajole and persuade the people to agree with them.

The two crucial hurdles that remain are rotating presidency and guarantees, and both need analysis to shed terminology that is unhelpful. No harm in changing to benevolent newspeak if that helps the leaders in their noble quest.

Personally I do not like the phrase rotating presidency and expressed strong views against it. I believe it to be fundamentally undemocratic and consequently something that the Greek Cypriots would find difficult to vote for affirmatively in a referendum. But call it job share and add a bit of gender equality in the mix and you have what the ancients called the good and the useful, which I would embrace at once.

My objection to rotating presidency is that it implies power by rotation rather than election. But on mature reflection I could not possibly object if a Turkish Cypriot is voted by Greek and Turkish Cypriots on a common roll to job share as president for say three or four months a year to coincide with the president’s holiday and other extramural arrangements. As it happens it would also give the Greek Cypriot president a break to rest and reflect, which would do any incumbent a world of good and benefit the country as it would be conducive to good decision making for someone in such a high pressure job.

I have never understood how heads of state who are also heads of government manage to cope with the pressure of high level decision making sometimes into the small hours, and air travel, and ceremonial duties, and the constant political shenanigans of their detractors. Many such leaders are of a certain age and, speaking for myself, I would burn out in no time if I had to crisis-cross Europe in airplanes all the time and deal with a constant stream of problems back home.

Furthermore, in an attempt to be imaginative, I venture to suggest that Cyprus would leap ahead of the rest of EU in the equality stakes if it also became a constitutional requirement that the presidential job share was not just between holders of the office from each of the constituent states but also of the opposite sex.

I believed an electoral college system was politically a lot more desirable as a basis for future inter communal political collaboration. But if the Turkish side finds this difficult, this job share, gender mix between the constituent states is a way forward that would be democratic and gender friendly. It would be a bonus for women with the added merit of being in accordance with modern practice at the work place designed to relieve people with high pressure jobs.

The Greens in the UK, which unlike the Green Party in Cyprus, are a liberal progressive party already have a leadership jobshare team in Caroline Lucas MP and Jonathan Bartley and I am sure the Scandinavians will soon follow suit.

The way forward is for anyone running for the elected office of president to have a running mate – as is done in the USA – but with two added ingredients: that he or she would have to be of the opposite sex to that of the candidate from the constituent state with the population majority. Secondly, he or she would have to be from the other constituent state.

In this way we would kill two birds with one stone. We would have a presidency that alternates at intermittent intervals of say three to four months a year in accordance with principles of gender equality as well constituent state nationality.

Such an arrangement would – you would think – make an affirmative referendum result more likely since one would imagine many women would rejoice at the thought of having a woman president even if from the other constituent state. It would also meet with approval by women’s groups in the EU and encourage female participation in political life. Finally, it would be in tune with the times and reverberate positively around the western world that at present includes Germany, Britain, Denmark and the USA which have women leaders in post or en route.

The security question is also not as intractable as appears at first blush. I think the Turkish side now accepts that there is no magic in the word ‘guarantee’. What both sides require is security and, what is not always the same thing, a feeling of security. Once we change the nomenclature of the past both sides can then address their concerns. The first concern of both sides is deterrence. It is obvious that not everyone is going to be happy with whatever compromise is reached and out of an abundance of caution there must be transitional arrangements to deal with recalcitrant elements on both sides. As in most federal states there will be a national guard to preserve order in case of civil or political unrest as there is in the USA.

A Turkish contingent in north Cyprus and an EU/Greek contingent in south Cyprus could be seconded to the national guard of each constituent state for a transitional period subject to periodical review. In federal constitutions the national guard is under the overlapping control of the states and the federal government and the modalities of that could be worked out.

The idea that any Turkish troops that remain would be here on secondment attached to the state national guard, would take the sting out of their presence here so that in a few years their base would look as sad and forlorn as the British base at Dhekelia looks today. When you consider how barren and sparsely populated the military base at Dhekelia now is, you wonder what the fuss was all about. I believe that if we set up a federation and it works smoothly, people in future will look at any Turkish facilities and likewise wonder what the fuss was all about too.


Alper Ali Riza is a Queen’s Counsel and part time judge in the UK

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