THERE is a strong possibility that all the horse-trading, the expedient alliances and the bickering over party choices for the municipal elections will prove pointless. It will all depend on the legislature approving the government bill, approved by the Council of Ministers yesterday, that would postpone December’s elections for two and a half years. The deadline for the approval of the bill is November 4, which gives the government little over a week to persuade the parties of the need to call off the elections.
The government has a strong case, which was explained by interior minister Socratis Hasikos after the cabinet meeting. He said the procedure for approval of the reform of local government, which envisages the reduction of the number of municipalities from 30 to 22, was at an advanced stage and he expected it to be in force within two years. Hasikos asked: “How would it be possible to proceed with elections for full term of service, when halfway through this term some municipalities would have to be merged with others?”
By postponing the elections “we would avoid many legal issues that would arise by reducing the municipalities from 30 to 22,” he added. It is impossible to disagree with the minister’s logic. There would be plenty of mayors and councillors appealing to the Supreme Court against any decision that would scrap their positions mid-way through their term, if they were elected this December. Such problems could only be avoided by postponing the elections.
The alternative, to wait for the newly-elected mayors and councillors to complete their five-year term before the reform was introduced would mean a needless waste of the taxpayer’s money. As the reform is primarily aimed at cutting the cost of local government, it would be irresponsibly wasteful to delay the money-saving by an additional two and a half years, which would be unavoidable if municipal elections were held this year.
The only criticism that could be made of the government’s decision was that it was left so late – just a month and a half before the elections – with the parties having already chosen their candidates and the campaigning already under way. Why had this decision not been announced two or three months ago? The idea had been mentioned by Hasikos some months ago, and had been supported by Disy, but the rest of the political parties were not even prepared to discuss it, insisting that elections must go ahead.
Was the decision left so late for tactical reasons? And what makes the government think that these parties would take a different approach now that they have completed all the preparations for the elections? Given the way opposition parties behave, it would appear very optimistic of the government to think they would act in a responsible way and back the decision, which makes perfect sense. Perhaps the government knows something we do not.