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Cabinet approves postponement of local elections (update 3)

The Nicosia Municipality building

The cabinet on Wednesday approved an interior ministry proposal to extend the term of elected local officials by two-and-a-half years thus postponing the elections, scheduled for December 18.

Ιnterior Minister Socratis Hasicos said the extension was deemed necessary because the procedure to approve legislation introducing local authority reforms was at an advanced stage.

The changes include reducing municipalities from 30 to 22 inside three years.

“It is absolutely necessary to extend the term of the councils elected in 2011, because how would it be possible to go to full term elections when halfway through some municipalities will be merged with others,” Hasicos said.

The government bill must be approved by parliament. The previous elections had been held in 2011.

The minister urged parliament to consider the bill carefully especially in light of the fact that the way local authorities operated was in need of urgent reform.

Hasicos rejected suggestions that the decision was undemocratic.

“We are not talking about abolishing elections,” he said. “What is intended is the extension of the term.”

The minister said something similar happened in 1999 when a decision was made to elect community leaders who, up to that point, were being appointed by the government.

“I do not think this bill is in any way undemocratic.”

On the contrary, he added, it served democracy and taxpayers especially, provided the reforms were approved by parliament.

Hasicos sought to quash suggestions that the bill was related to efforts to reunify the island and the expectation of a solution soon.

“Allow me not to link it. It is clearly to the benefit of local authority reform. We have been discussing reform for the past three years, it is time everyone made their decision.”

The bill must be approved by parliament before November 4, when candidates are due to officially submit their candidacies.

But it appeared that approval would be impossible.

Shortly after the announcement, main opposition AKEL and DIKO said they would be rejecting the bill.

AKEL spokesman Stefanos Stefanou expressed surprise that the government raised the matter just two months before the elections.

“Local authority reform has been delayed because of the government and the policy it follows,” he said.

Stefanou said the administration had been handed a comprehensive reform plan, which it dismantled, and after fiddling with various scenarios that even the ruling party didn’t support, it was now asking to postpone the elections.

“The only case in which there is a possibility of AKEL discussing postponement of the elections is to have dramatic developments in the negotiations that would raise the prospect of a solution to the Cyprus problem soon,” Stefanou said. “But no such conditions exist now.”

DIKO also rejected the proposal, arguing that institutions and democratic processes must continue and “we must not send out messages that we intend to postpone the state’s operation for any reason.”

The party said local authority reform could be implemented from the next elections, in five years.

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