Ruling Disy’s proposal for a legislative amendment to shift decision-making power on school celebrations from parliament to the education ministry was approved by the House education committee on Wednesday and is to be tabled to the plenum at the end of the month.
The bill was tabled by Disy in the aftermath of the fracas caused by the introduction of a brief annual commemoration of the 1950 Enosis (union with Greece) referendum in state schools last month, prompting Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci to withdraw from the reunification talks until the decision was rescinded.
The amendment was put to a vote in the House education committee on Wednesday and approved with the backing of Disy and Akel MPs, despite tension during its discussion.
The tension was caused after Akel deputy Giorgos Loukaides, who is not a committee member, told his colleagues that his party’s MP and committee member Giorgos Georgiou, who was not present at the discussion, wished to cast his positive vote.
Prior to Loukaides’ intervention, there was a tie, as the five deputies of opposition parties – Diko, the Citizens’ Alliance, the Solidarity Movement, and the Greens – opposed the move, and the Akel and Disy MPs’ positive votes were also five because Georgiou was absent.
This sparked a discussion concerning House rules and whether absent MPs had the right to vote by proxy. Citizens’ Alliance deputy, Pavlos Mylonas, left the discussion in protest.
According to the rules, the decision to table the bill to the plenary was taken after committee chairman Kyriacos Hadjiyiannis, a Disy MP, cast the tie-breaking vote.
The bill is understood to be an indirect way for the government to revoke parliament’s decision as regards the Enosis vote commemoration, thereby easing tension between the two sides.
President Nicos Anastasiades had admitted that the move was wrong, but had said that he would not take any actions to have the vote rescinded. He also accused the Turkish Cypriot side of overreacting and using the issue as an excuse to stall the talks.
Akel said it supported Disy’s amendment reluctantly, as it did not agree with granting this authority to the education ministry, but accepted the bill needed backing to make it to the plenum.
Loukaides said following the vote, that his party had backed the proposal not on its merits but to facilitate the settlement negotiations.
This discussion would have been avoided, he said, if his party’s opinion had been heard during last month’s plenary session where the commemoration of the Enosis referendum was passed.
Akel deputies had been the only party to oppose the proposal, which was submitted by nationalist Elam and backed by Diko, Edek, the Citizens’ Alliance, Solidarity, and the Greens. Disy abstained, thus allowing a majority to turn the proposal into law.
Disy head Averof Neophytou, said that his party’s proposal aimed at “rectifying a distortion concerning the intervention of political parties in education”. This distortion, he said, had caused excessive reaction and misinterpretations.
The smaller opposition parties however, were not impressed by the decision to table Disy’s proposal to the plenum.
In a barb against Neophytou, who was revealed to have attended an informal dinner with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci last week, Diko MP Panicos Leonidou said Akinci’s “instructions were followed” and that “secret consultations worked as intended”.
“Every vote in support of Disy’s proposal is a vote against the Greek Cypriots’ dignity and democratic institutions, as it affords the Turkish side the right to intervene and overturn parliamentary decisions,” he said.
Edek leader Marinos Sizopoulos said the proposal was unconstitutional and hinted that the party would contest its legality in court.
Solidarity Movement’s MP, Michalis Giorgallas, said that the only person that would be satisfied by the effort of Disy and Akel to overthrow the Enosis commemoration was Akinci.
Hitting back, Disy MP Nicos Tornaritis said the tension during the session had been staged by certain parties over procedural issues.
“In their effort to promote policies through the education system, they have created a storm in a teacup,” he said.
“We can’t continue to burden the pupils’ schedule with announcements, leaflets, ten-minute commemorations, and so on. Education has to be kept away from party politics.”