President Anastasiades’ accident, which will keep him immobilised at home for two to three weeks, gave rise to reports that House President Demetris Syllouris would take over as acting president. These reports were quashed by the government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou on Sunday, who said that as the president was still in the country there was no need for an acting president, even though Syllouris was expected to stand in for him, including chairing Wednesday’s council of ministers’ meeting and received the credentials of new ambassadors on Tuesday.
While the president is in the country, even if he is physically unable to perform his duties, he remains the president. There is no need for anyone to stand in for him, either for the decision-making of the executive or at official functions. Yet it has become standard practice, in what is a violation of the constitution, for the house president to take the role of acting president when the president of the republic is abroad. And now they want this dubious constitutional practice to apply when the president is ill as well.
The chairing of the council of ministers by the House president that has been the practice since the Vassiliou presidency makes no political or constitutional sense, as it places a member of the legislature, with nothing more than ceremonial role, in charge of the executive. Is there conflict of interest? Another absurdity is that a member of the opposition – it has happened – can chair council of ministers’ meetings and take part in the decision-making of the executive he criticises as a matter of political duty.
The fact is that the council of ministers could be chaired by one of the government ministers, in the absence of the president. After all it is an executive organ that has collective responsibility and even when the president is present, decisions are often put to the vote. There are no legal or political grounds for the House president to take part in these meetings, as Demetris Syllouris will do on Wednesday, especially as he is a member of the legislative authority and not the executive.
Everyone, however, turns a blind eye to this irregularity, pretending that because the House president is number two in state protocol, he should be the acting president. By this suspect reasoning, if both president and House president were abroad, then the third in state protocol – it could be the Archbishop – should be the acting president. We are not showing much respect for our state institutions with this practice, which should be re-examined now that the president will be away from his office for a few weeks.