The low regard in which political parties and politicians are held is a frequent theme in newspapers and political shows on television and radio. This was seen to be reinforced by the European Parliament elections for which the turn-out was less than 50 per cent. While this is a perfectly legitimate explanation there are other reasons for voter apathy and the declining engagement of people in politics that none of the parties seem to acknowledge when discussing the disappointing election results. They do not stand for anything, politically or ideologically.
In fact, all the parties, with the possible exception of Akel, have become a personal vehicle for their respective leader. Parties like Diko, Edek, Solidarity, Citizens’ Alliance, Greens and the fledgling Dipa exist to further the leader’s political ambitions and do not stand for anything other than a hard line on the Cyprus problem, on which they all speak with the same voice, not realising that very few people are actually listening. The hollowness of their hackneyed, self-righteous rhetoric of the past has now entered the realm of parody, but they do not give up.
These ‘leader’ parties are of little political relevance, but it is worrying seeing Disy following them down the path of irrelevance. Under criticism from members for its poor showing in last month’s European elections, in which its share of the vote declined by almost nine percentage points, party leader Averof Neophytou called a meeting of the political office last Monday for an open discussion about what the party had done wrong and the direction it should take. A committee was set up to come up with a diagnosis of the problems and make proposals.
What the committee will never say is that Disy is suffering because it is still seen as President Anastasiades’ party, applauding his erratic decisions, defending his populist instincts and following him down the path of partition that he now favours. Considering this was the party that embraced the pragmatic approach to the Cyprus problem and consistently supported a settlement, many of its supporters now feel betrayed. Disy may still pay lip service to the need for a compromise with the Turkish side, but no thinking person can take this seriously when they see the party defending Anastasiades’ thinly-disguised efforts of the last two years to avoid an agreement.
Things are no different on the economy, with Anastasiades wasting the taxpayers’ money on public sector pay rises and an array of vote-buying projects with Disy casting aside its traditional economic prudence to champion the presidential profligacy. Disy was once a party that took a stand against the continuous bloating of the public sector and issued warnings about the constantly rising public payroll, whereas Anastasiades has been on a recruitment spree ever since we exited the assistance programme. The warnings from abroad about the need for economic caution largely go unheeded, Disy also backing the President’s big spending policies.
As a party it has become as unprincipled and populist as the president it loyally backs, driving away its urban, educated, middle class following. It may still count on its rural and nationalist support that Anastasiades courts with his populism and is probably bigger in size than the moderate, pro-settlement voters of the towns, but it is also betraying its political principles and values. The attacks on Akel’s Turkish Cypriot candidate during the election campaign was indicative of how far the party has moved away from its traditional values in the service of Anastasiades.
Neophytou, the party leader, who remains loyal to Disy’s traditional principles, is caught between a rock and a hard place. If he distanced the party from the government he would face a revolt from a large section of the membership that is loyal to Anastasiades but if he carries on offering unconditional support to the president’s unpredictable one-man show by the end of the presidential term Disy could be a spent political force. Neophytou should consider what happened to Akel after five years of acting as the apologist of President Christofias; and this was a communist party with fanatically loyal supporters. Ten years of unconditional support for Anastasiades, who has lost all measure since his re-election, could cause irreparable damage to Disy.
Neophytou does not have easy choices but restoring Disy’s shot credibility by embracing the principles that made it the main political force of the country should be the priority. This will not be achieved by clashing with Anastasiades but by gradually promoting the idea that it is Anastasiades who is running the country and not Disy. This may be difficult to pull off, but it seems the only way to limit the damage being done to the party by the president.