As attorney-general Costas Clerides declined to assess the constitutionality of a legislative proposal tabled by Disy, which would effectively transfer decision-making on school commemorations from parliament to the government, escalating tension resulted in a fiery row between Diko leader Nicolas Papadopoulos and Disy MP Nicos Tornaritis.
The proposal, designed to overturn a parliament decision in mid-February, which introduced a short in-class commemoration of the 1950 referendum for Enosis (or union with Greece) in state schools and caused the withdrawal of Turkish Cypriot leader from peace talks since, was challenged on the basis of constitutionality by Edek leader Marinos Sizopoulos.
In a letter to Clerides, the House Speaker conveyed Sizopoulos’ objections and requested a legal opinion on the proposal’s legality, and received his reply on Wednesday.
Although Syllouris declined to comment on its content, saying he would only disclose Clerides’ response at the party leaders’ meeting that was scheduled for noon Thursday.
On Thursday, party leaders were informed that in his letter of response Clerides declined to assess the legality of the proposal because, by law, he is legal advisor to the executive branch of government, not the legislative.
Clerides’ response is consistent with his stance in previous attempts by parliament to involve the Legal Service in its affairs.
Whatever Clerides’ response, the proposal has been forwarded for debate and voting at Friday’s plenum, where it is expected to pass with the votes of Disy and main opposition Akel.
Speaking on state radio on Thursday morning, Papadopoulos attacked the MPs of Disy and Akel for “humiliating the Cypriot people by caving to Turkey’s and Akinci’s demands”.
“This will be the first time since 1960 when parliament reverses a decision at Turkey’s request,” Papadopoulos said.
“Parliament voted lawfully, according to the powers vested in it by the constitution. From the moment Turkey and Akinci started threatening us, and demanding to have a say in what we teach our children, the discussion should have ended there and then. Otherwise, we are conveying the message that we are susceptible to threats and intimidation, and very soon we will face new demands.”
Friday’s decision in fact makes it harder for a solution to the Cyprus problem to be found, he added.
On the issue of the proposal’s constitutionality, Papadopoulos said the AG “obviously does not want to take a stand because he, too, realises it is unconstitutional”.
“What is happening is pretty clear,” he said.“We have torn up and binned the constitution.”
His comments sparked an angry reaction by Disy MP Nicos Tornaritis, who accused him of being comfortable with the status quo and opposing the resumption of talks.
“Nicolas Papadopoulos’ demagoguery points to someone comfortable, both with regard to his own financial state and the status quo,” Tornaritis said.
“I will allow no one to suggest that Disy MPs are humiliating the Cypriot people.”
Tornaritis denied the proposal was the result of Turkish threats.
“Lies! Lies! When did Turkey threaten us and we didn’t realise?” he said.
“Immediately after the vote on the Enosis commemoration decision, Disy’s leader said the party will table a proposal to correct the distortion. This was days before Mr. Akinci raised any concerns. What is so suspect?”
The Greens’ leader Yiorgos Perdikis said that he sent a letter to Syllouris suggesting that he ask President Nicos Anastasiades, on behalf of parliament, to demand that, in exchange for Friday’s vote, the Turkish Cypriot side remove the “huge flag of the pseudo-state”, which he reportedly described as “filthy”, from the Pentadaktylos mountains.