President Anastasiades hosted a lunch for ministers and the Disy parliamentary group at which he urged them to defend the settlement efforts and not allow the ongoing distortion of the truth in public debate. According to a press report, he told Disy deputies, who appeared on television debates with members of other parties, that they should be more decisive, aggressive and dynamic, giving answers to those that mislead and spread fear about the Cyprus talks.
They could not allow the parties of the centre, especially Diko, to engage in propaganda and distortion and shape public opinion the president said, highlighting the need for better co-ordination between the government and Disy so that messages were more effective. That the president, at last, identified the problem is progress. The rejectionist parties have been allowed complete freedom to engage in scare tactics, distortion of reality, but, even worse, to set the agenda of the Cyprus problem debate.
For this, the blame belongs to the president, who has no communication strategy for preparing people for a settlement and for countering the scare tactics of the rejectionist parties. What has the government done to counter the negative climate cultivated by the anti-settlement parties over the last year? It has a government spokesman who is terrified of public confrontation and only seems to support the peace efforts grudgingly. He seems more concerned with making excuses for the government than forcefully promoting its aims.
Ultimate responsibility belongs to Anastasiades for not having a communications strategy with clear objectives for his spokesman to follow. In fact the president has been helping the rejectionists set the agenda by pandering to them rather than confronting them. He gives them legitimacy and credibility by reassuring them when they criticise his decisions. They demanded the presence of the Cyprus Republic at the international conference in Geneva and he declared the Republic’s presence a red line; they wanted the five permanent members of the UN Security Council present at the conference and he has adopted their demand.
Yet he had agreed to a five-party conference with Mustafa Akinci. Rather than defend what he had agreed, thus maintaining his trustworthiness, he has adopted the positions of the rejectionists whose only objective is to derail the peace process and have the international conference aborted. By adopting their positions he is accepting their argument and indicating to the public that they were right. And by so doing he does not challenge their positions. Why, for instance, is it necessary for all Security Council members to be present at the conference? Would it strengthen our position, or are they relying on Russia to scupper a deal? We have still not heard one rational argument in support of this demand, yet the president adopted it.
This is indicative of the confusion reigning at the presidential palace. If the president wants to counter the propaganda and distortions of the rejectionists, he has to formulate a communications strategy, which would set the agenda of debate, neutralise the negative climate, show the government’s resolve and offer a post-settlement vision. Once he has done that he could recruit the help of ministers and deputies.