Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

Clumsy handling of rotating presidency could scupper deal

Demetris Christofias and Mehmet Talat wasted precious months discussing a rotating presidency

By Loucas Charalambous

MUSTAFA AKINCI said on Wednesday that a rotating presidency would offer every Turkish Cypriot the right to be a presidential candidate. The only form acceptable in a settlement is one ensuring one term for Turkish Cypriots and two terms for Greek Cypriots, he said.

A review of this issue shows how lamentably our side has handled it. An issue that had been resolved in the best possible way by the Annan plan was taken first by Christofias and then by Anastasiades, and both for personal reasons transformed it into complex problem that could in the end prove the instrument to kill a settlement.

The Annan plan (article 5.2) envisaged a federal (presidential) council consisting of six members who would be elected by special majority by the senate and approved by the House. These six, (four Greek Cypriots and two Turkish Cypriots) would be able to elect two members (one from each community) to preside over the council over a five-year term – two 20-month terms for the Greek Cypriot and one 20-month term for the Turkish Cypriot. In this arrangement it would not matter so much who presided over the council as all the members would be equal. Not even Tassos Papadopoulos objected to this arrangement, while his son repeatedly said he would have preferred this.

Christofias messed everything up. Thinking only about himself as a future president of the new state, he wasted the biggest part of his negotiations with Mehmet Ali Talat to persuade him to scrap the federal council of the Annan plan and replace it with a council of ministers, a president and a vice-president who would alternate in the presidency at the ratio mentioned above. After 18 months of trying he succeeded, but in so doing had wasted valuable negotiating time with the result that Talat lost the ‘presidential’ elections in the north to Dervis Eroglu. This meant another five years were lost before another serious settlement effort was undertaken by Akinci and Anastasiades.

It should be said that the way the two rotating presidents would be elected gave rise to an agreement on a noteworthy innovation – weighted voting. Through this the voters of each community would participate proportionally in the election of the president from the other community. Theoretically, this process has many self-evident positives. But the problems caused in moving from the federal council to a council of ministers could destroy the settlement effort, either now or at the referendum stage.

Unfortunately, Aastasiades has handled the whole matter with unforgivable clumsiness. In order to satisfy the Edek-Diko-Elam-Alliance-Greens-Solidarity alliance he announced he had withdrawn the acceptance of a rotating presidency, supposedly keeping it as bargaining card for later on. Publicly, however, in his effort to satisfy this unholy alliance, he declared the rotating presidency a ‘red line’ although he knew that in the end he would accept it; after all, both Christofias and Clerides had.

Given the history of the Cyprus problem, it is a sensible arrangement to give the Turkish Cypriot community the right to the presidency of the federal state for a period of time. But now Anastasiades has been trapped by his rhetoric. He has so demonised rotating presidency by going on about it in public that he will have great difficulty convincing Greek Cypriots that it is a good arrangement when he eventually agrees to it.

Now, faced with a deadlock of his own making, the president has two options. He can either propose rotating presidency in the form it was agreed by Christofias and Talat – a package that would include weighted cross-voting – or, even better, he can listen to the advice given by Ioannis Kasoulides to Christofias in 2010 – abandon the idea of a council of ministers and return to the provision of the Annan plan for a six-member federal council.

I am certain the Turkish Cypriots would accept such a change to which not even rejectionists could object because their spiritual leader Tassos Papadopoulos had accepted it in 2004.

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