Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist Opinion

The election is not in the bag Mr President

President Nicos Anastasiades does not have the election in the bag and could easily lose in a runoff against Nicolas Papadopoulos

By Alper Ali Riza

ELECTION predictions based on polls are not always reliable in small countries in which political allegiances are like football-club loyalties. My assessment is that President Nicos Anastasiades does not have the election in the bag and could easily lose in a runoff against Nicolas Papadopoulos of Diko if the latter goes to the second round with Akel onside.

The question is whether Akel would support Nicolas Papadopoulos if he gets to the second round. As Akel are promoting their own independent candidate at present, it is not fair to ask their voting intentions at this stage but a brief historical analysis suggests they would support Nicolas if their candidate is knocked out in the first round.

Akel’s post-independence voting record is revealing. Archbishop Makarios won in 1960 when there were no political parties in Cyprus, except Akel, the communist party of Cyprus. His opponent was John Clerides, father of Glafcos Clerides, who was supported by Akel. Incidentally, he would have made a much better president. He was an eminent and careful lawyer who would have respected the 1960 constitutional arrangements and kept Cyprus in one piece.

The important historical point, however, is that John Clerides was supported by Akel, which has always been a moderate influence on the national question.

Takis Evdokas was Makarios’ next opponent in 1968. He was a psychiatrist but little known in political circles, except for being an extreme nationalist. Makarios roundly defeated him receiving 96 per cent of the vote. Akel had fallen under Makarios’ spell by this stage and remained loyal to him for the rest of his political life. For all intents and purposes Akel became part of the broad group of Makarios supporters –  the Makariaki.

Makarios did not take part in any further elections. He was returned unopposed in 1973. Unfortunately for Cyprus a group of nationalist thugs decided to mount a second struggle for enosis – union with Greece. This time against Makarios himself, notwithstanding he had been the founding father of the enosis movement.

Makarios had made a mild concession to reality that enosis was desirable but not feasible, which was enough to cause number of attempts on his life and the infamous coup that temporarily ousted him from power in 1974 when Nicos Sampson was installed as president for a week. Glafcos Clerides then took over as acting president until Makarios returned in November and remained president until he died of a heart attack in 1977.

In 1978 a close associate of Makarios, Spyros Kyprianou, became president having secured the support of the Makarios supporters that also included Akel. He founded Diko as a party of the centre-right comprising mostly of Makarios supporters. At that time Tassos Papadopoulos, the father of candidate Nicolas, remained a dark horse waiting in the wings as a leader of a fringe group, rather like George Lillikas is doing at present.

Kyprianou’s election came about in unusual circumstances. His son was apparently kidnapped during the election campaign forcing his opponent, Glafcos Clerides, to withdraw. As a result, Kyprianou was returned unopposed. The important point however is that Akel had become part of the broad church of Makarios supporters who supported Kyprianou’s candidacy.

President Spyros Kyprianou remained in the post for two terms until Akel decided to switch its support in favour of the independent candidate, George Vassiliou, a businessman with left-wing pretensions who was more amenable on the Cyprus question.

In 1993 Glafcos Clerides, leader of the right-wing Disy party, became president after defeating Akel’s George Vassiliou. Disy is a right-wing coalition of all those on the right who were not Makariaki. Some were de-radicalised putschists but the majority were pro-western conservatives. Glafcos Clerides was the best politician Cyprus ever had but never heeded. He began life as a staunch supporter of Makarios but became disillusioned with him over the Cyprus question.

He broke ranks with Makarios supporters after 1974 and formed Disy as a discrete party of the right with clear blue water from the Makarios camp. He was even prepared to embrace some former putschists in accordance with the principle attributed to US president Lyndon Johnson that it was ‘better to have them inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in.’ It is important to understand this aspect of Disy as it is the stable from which Anastasiades hails and explains why Akel will never vote for a Disy candidate.

President Glafcos Clerides was re-elected in 1998. His crowning achievement, together with Prime Minister Costas Simitis of Greece, was the accession of Cyprus into the EU in 2004. In the elections of 2003, however, Clerides lost to Tassos Papadopoulos who had by this time joined Diko and carved an alliance with Akel to get a whiff of the presidency.

The obverse is also true because when Akel fielded its own leader, Demetris Christofias, as a candidate in the 2008 elections, Tassos Papadopoulos did not even make it to the second round.

Anastasiades was not Disy’s candidate in 2008. He was not very popular in the party in those days. They preferred to field the lacklustre Ioannis Kasoulides.

But after Kasoulides was defeated by Christofias, Anastasiades’ time had come and he became leader. In 2013 he defeated Stavros Malas the independent candidate supported by Akel. Anastasiades was extremely nervous until he knew the result for certain, even though he could not lose if he tried.

He should be a lot more nervous this time round but not because Stavros Malas poses any threat. Stavros Malas had been a former minister in the government of Christofias and has now been chosen by Akel faute de mieux. I confess I find his quest to be president incomprehensible. He is a nice enough guy and does not even seem overly ambitious but he has not been part of the cut and thrust of Cypriot politics that is essential for a president to get anything done. He went into hibernation after he lost in 2013 until Akel called on him when they were stuck without any independent candidate to field.

I can understand that Cyprus is a very small country which in theory should not be difficult to govern. But if Malas thinks he can govern Cyprus without political experience he is mistaken. In small island states like Cyprus and Malta you need to be streetwise and savvy to be president. As Anastasiades is alleged to have told a former governor of the central bank, you have to have that rare gift of being both the biggest belle de jour as well as the grandest madam.

The reason Anastasiades should be nervous is because if Papadopoulos goes to the second round the Cypriots will revert to political type. They will vote the same way they have always voted. The Makarios camp including Akel will vote Anastasiades out of power. After all his only claim to power was that he was going to solve the Cyprus problem. He was supposed to do what Clerides failed to achieve by a whisker in 2004, but he lost the plot and blew it at Crans-Montana.

He thought he would don the rejectionists clothes and steal the election. But the historical pattern is clear and I too must eat humble pie as I had not fully appreciated the basic rule of Cypriot politics: the combined vote of Diko and Akel working in tandem with the Diko leader as candidate always elects the president.

It happened at the time of Kyprianou and Papadopoulos. Clerides only defeated Vassiliou in 1993 and George Iacovou in 1998 because they were independents and not the leaders of Diko. Anastasiades only won against Malas in 2013 because Diko did not field a candidate as they chose to back Anastasiades.

That is my prediction. My preference is negative. Every time I think of Anastasiades as a candidate the image he conjures is of the pledge  he gave bank depositors on TV in 2013 that their deposits were safe in his hands when he wasmanifestly economical with the truth. The other picture I have of him is protesting unconvincingly about guarantees when neither he, nor Clerides, nor Simitis, nor Papadopoulos, nor the UN and the EU were in the least bit concerned about guarantees in 2004. They were regarded as uncontroversial sweep-up implementation provisions then – alas no more.

As I said, my prediction is that if Nicolas Papadopoulos goes to the second round he will probably do so with Akel onside and that will probably be curtains for the president.

Let’s see what Papadopoulos can do as a young president. He says he will be tough with Turkey. If he is elected we shall find out if he can achieve much by being tough with the Turks. I doubt it but I would be comfortable if he were elected. We would then all be able to say to him and those of his ilk, here’s your chance let’s see what you can do your way: idou e rodos idou ke to pidima.

 

 

Alper Ali Riza is a queen’s counsel in the UK and a part time judge

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