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Disy prepares for internal showdown

Analysts say there is no one influential enough to challenge Averof Neophytou
Ruling party to hammer out how they dropped nine points in Euro elections

By Elias Hazou

The convocation of Disy’s political bureau for this coming Monday, the first post-mortem on the ruling party’s poor showing in the European Parliament elections, is not expected to be a meaningful exercise in itself. More’s the pity, commentators say: for unless the party draws any lessons, it will continue to slip.

Though the conclave has been hyped over the past week, chances are that it will turn out a damp squib.

“Actually, convening the political bureau is a smart move by party leader Averof Neophytou,” political analyst Christoforos Christoforou tells the Sunday Mail.

“The gathering will function as a pressure release valve, allowing cadres to vent. And after people have unloaded, they’ll go home and probably forget until the next ballot.”

At the same time, Neophytou will be able to say: ‘Look, we gave everyone the chance to speak.’

The party chief is taking flak for the recent election result, where Disy dropped nine points compared to the 2014 European Parliament ballot.

His leadership faces criticism for steering the party toward a ‘nationalistic’ direction and rhetoric. And a section of Disy supporters, never ones to be corralled, duly punished the party on May 26.

Monday’s political bureau is seen as a showdown of sorts between the two trends inside the party: the moderates and those who are taking a more nationalistic tone.

Former health minister George Pamborides got the ball rolling last Sunday. In an interview with Phileleftheros, he tore at the party leadership for its conduct during the campaign.

There followed a war of words on Twitter between Pamborides and Disy individuals considered close to Neophytou.

Matters turned nasty, after someone affiliated to Disy penned an article accusing Pamborides of being a fair-weather fan.

Pamborides even alleged that circles inside the party were calling up cadres and giving them an earful for liking or sharing his interview on social media.

Neophytou himself had set the tone that alienated party supporters. There was his warning that, if Greek Cypriots were to abstain from the upcoming ballot, Turkish Cypriots could determine the outcome. In retrospect, it must not have gone down well with the more moderate, pro-solution base of the party.

Then government spokesman Prodromos Prodromos got into the action when he appeared to disparage Turkish Cypriot voters.

“This time Akel heads to the #EuropeanElections2019 on borrowed votes,” he tweeted –alluding to the Turkish Cypriot bloc.

Chiming in, Disy’s super-nationalist member and a candidate for MEP, Eleni Stavrou, wrote a piece essentially calling Niyazi Kizilyurek – Akel’s Turkish Cypriot candidate – an agent for Turkey.

Although she was arguably playing identity politics, the party let her comments slide.

So the grass roots penalised their party, but will the leadership take the hint?

“Probably not. Neophytou has the party locked down. There’s no one to challenge his leadership, no one who’s influential enough,” opines Christoforou.

“Just look at what happened the day after the elections. Disy personalities paraded on television, repeating the talking point handed down by Neophytou: that their party landing first place was the main takeaway.”

In the wake of the elections, the narrative from Disy was that they lost nine points because they no longer had Demetris Syllouris and Eleni Theocharous on their ticket, as they did in 2014.

It was cited over and over to justify the decline.

But according to Christoforou, simple arithmetic does not bear out this claim.

In the 2009 European Parliament elections, Disy had received 35.7 per cent. And that was going it alone, without having individuals from other parties on their ticket.

By comparison, in the 2014 ballot, Disy got 37.75 per cent. Which means the inclusion then of Syllouris and Theocharous increased the party’s share by a mere two points – nowhere near the nine points that Disy now says accounts for those two candidates.

That such flimsy arguments are being used to explain away the bad result, indicates there’s no real troubleshooting going on inside Disy.

As for the 2019 European elections, Disy fell to 29.02 per cent. Exit polls taken on the night suggested this was chiefly due to leakage to other parties rather than the impact of high abstention.

All that said, Christoforou does not believe the party is currently in the throes of a crisis per se.

However, unless it reverses course to return to its more liberal outlook, Disy could slip even further in the future.

It is certainly not a good sign that, between the 2011 and 2016 legislative elections, the party lost some 20,000 votes.

For Christos Pourgourides, a longtime member of Disy, his party faces an identity crisis.

“Unfortunately, during these elections we seemed to abandon the moderate ground and move to the extreme right,” he laments.

Although at this time he cannot discern whether the shift was more tactical than an actual change in ideology, it’s the outcome that matters, he says.

“Let me give you a for-instance. Had we had European Parliament elections in Cyprus in the 2004 timeframe, up to 80 per cent of Turkish Cypriots might have voted for Disy.

“Had Disy stuck to its values, it ought have been calling for the most massive participation of Turkish Cypriots in 2019. But we saw the opposite happen, as certain cadres sought to belittle the Turkish Cypriot vote.”

Speaking to other media during the week, Pourgourides said:

“In a bid to poach votes from the far-right, the party is manifesting a split personality, like Jekyll and Hyde. Where the ends justify the means.”

The party base, he added, is also ‘confused’ by its former leader President Nicos Anastasiades’ mixed signals on the Cyprus problem.

Never one to hold his punches, Pourgourides signs off with this ominous warning to the Sunday Mail:

“Unless Disy corrects itself, it faces an expiry date.”

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