WHENEVER President Nicos Anastasiades is abroad, a certain calm descends on public life. There is much less political bickering and public debate becomes far more low-key. Is this because the president thrives on public confrontation and is always angling for a row, or is because in his absence the opposition parties do not have a target to attack?
Opposition parties do not often direct their fire at individual ministers on policy issues. Even if they disagree with specific policies, they will always attack the president rather than the responsible minister, presumably because Anastasiades would be the opponent in presidential elections. So, when the president is abroad the intensity of the criticism of the government drastically diminishes.
As soon as he is back on the island, the intensity levels are turned up. Anastasiades is not blameless in this, as he opens himself up to attacks by making public statements – usually twice a day – about issues in the news. It goes without saying, that his theme most days is the Cyprus problem, which suits opposition parties as it is the easiest issue to take a courageous line on and pontificate about.
What is worse is that Anastasiades then feels obliged to respond, either personally or through his spokesmen, thus keeping the row going, to the delight of his detractors. If the debate was constructive and enlightened the public it would be welcome but it is not. It is invariably very simplistic of the ‘you are wrong and I am right’ or ‘I am more patriotic than you’ type.
The president does not seem to understand that his desire not to allow a word of criticism to go unanswered, which leads him to be involved in these daily public exchanges, is not to his advantage. He is helping the opposition focus on his perceived mistakes and bad choices. If he did not respond, there would be no exchange and the issue would disappear from the public domain in no time.
With regard to the Cyprus problem, there are also other reasons to avoid daily declarations about what he would not accept, or the gloomy prospects for a deal. Apart from turning Greek Cypriots against a deal by repeating his negative messages, he is also advertising that he is not very committed to a deal. Perhaps this is his objective, in which case there is a reason for his daily outbursts.
Regardless of his motives, making public statements twice a day and engaging in continuous exchanges with the opposition is not very presidential. A president needs to ration his public utterances and choose when he will speak because only then will people really pay attention and to words with the gravity they expect from their president.