Ruling party Disy on Monday tried to walk back earlier incendiary remarks by President Nicos Anastasiades who had referred to his critics within Akel as ‘zeros’.
Perhaps realising that the president’s comments went beyond acceptable political discourse, and given the backlash on social media, Disy and the government spent the latter half of Sunday and Monday on damage limitation.
Disy spokesman Demetris Demetriou offered an apology, seeking to soften the impact from the president’s harsh words. It was an apology by proxy, as the government itself made no such direct act of contrition.
“The president of the Republic was not referring to any individual in person, be it the leadership or the grass roots of the left,” Demetriou said on a live news show on the Sigma channel.
“But he [the president] has insulted and hurt people, and we can only say sorry to these people.”
The president’s use of the word ‘zeros’ alluded not to individuals but rather to the policies of the Akel party when it was in power, but also to its current nihilistic critique of the Anastasiades administration.
Earlier on the same show, Akel leader Andros Kyprianou was complaining that the president’s cruel language is a sign that Anastasiades is intolerant to criticism.
“President Anastasiades and Disy are unaccustomed to hearing opinions and positions different to theirs. So their reaction is harsh, offensive,” Kyprianou said.
“How can we be the ‘zeros’ when we are looking out for the interests of the overwhelming majority of the Cypriot people, while the president describes as excellent people like Rikkos Erotokritou, Ionas Nicolaou and Harris Georgiades, to name but a few.”
The Akel chief then threw down the gauntlet, challenging Anastasiades to a televised debate to discuss all.
But the invitation was artfully declined.
“If Mr Kyprianou wanted a one-on-one debate with president Anastasiades, he should have run in the last presidential elections,” Disy’s Demetriou responded.
Meantime the office of the presidency put out a statement in a bid to set the record straight. It said that if one reviews the video of Anastasiades’ speech, one can see that the president is clearly referring to the leadership of Akel, the politicians, and not the party’s supporters.
The presidency also released a clip from Anastasiades’ contentious speech.
In it, he says: “I have absolute respect for the people of the Left, who do not identify with what they hear every day from those who are in command.”
The ‘zeros’ kerfuffle began on Friday evening when Anastasiades made the remarks during a Disy election gathering.
Evidently irritated by Akel’s incessant criticism of his administration – including its handling of the recent Turkish violations of Cyprus’ maritime zones – the president lashed out at the main opposition party.
“How can the zeros comment on those who have excelled?” Anastasiades asked rhetorically, evidently alluding to members of his government.
Turning to the Christofias administration (2008 to 2013), Anastasiades sarcastically said that its “achievements were misery, poverty, pension and salary cuts.”
In 2013, Anastasiades added, when he took office succeeding Christofias, Cyprus resembled the junkyard at Kotsiatis.
Calculated or not, the war of words may have injected some life into the arena ahead of the European Parliament elections.
A recent poll by Noverna Analytics & Research showed that Disy is expected to garner 16.7 per cent of the vote, Akel 14.4 per cent.
Around one third of voters are undecided.