It was good to see President Anastasiades adopt a softer tone in his address to the people on Wednesday, as did his ministers who presented the government’s latest measures for fighting the spread of the virus and supporting the economy. The alarmism and condescension that had become trademarks of their public speeches about the measures, was replaced by a more measured discourse that treated the audience with a modicum of respect.
There was no disparaging of the so-called irresponsible, undisciplined minority for the sake of whom we all had to be punished with more restrictive measures, nor was there any scaremongering. On the contrary, Anastasiades managed to sound more positive and less stern than in the past, without encouraging any complacency. Relaxing the measures was not an option, and these would remain in place over the Easter holiday.
“I want to make clear that we are not permitted any diversion or possible relaxation of measures since such action would lead to an unprecedented reversal, with catastrophic consequences,” he said. What made this more palatable to people was that the authorities were gaining control of the situation, because, as Anastasiades said, the measures put in place were yielding results. It was a positive message, after weeks of alarmism and reprimands of the public by him and his ministers.
The overall impression, with ministers presenting policies for supporting businesses, protecting jobs, introducing a coronavirus testing programme and for the gradual return of Cypriots stranded abroad, was that there was a plan. Nothing would change overnight, but it was reassuring to see the government taking control and having a plan for dealing with a very difficult situation. People are more likely to be won over by the government through this approach rather than through the instilling of fear and threats of punitive measures.
Perversely, it is also reassuring that the opposition parties slammed the government’s economic measures as inadequate. They want more money spent, and they want the government to keep on increasing the public debt in order to help everyone get through the crisis. Their populism was deactivated by the fear caused by the health crisis for a few weeks, but it has restarted, suggesting that the worst is over. Of course, for the economy big troubles lie ahead but for now the important thing is to overcome the fear that has gripped the country as a direct consequence of the government rhetoric.
This rhetoric changed on Wednesday and hopefully so will the mood of the country.