Never before has there been such a public clamour for the resignation of a state official, as the one witnessed in the last few days. The outcry that followed the release of the video showing the House President Demetris Syllouris offering to help a Chinese man, who had supposedly done time for money laundering and bribery in China, secure a Cyprus passport was unprecedented. The unity displayed in calling for his resignation was astounding, breaking all barriers – social, ideological, political – that divide people.
There was an explosion of public rage, fuelled by an endless stream of abuse and ridicule on social media directed at Syllouris, with everyone calling for his resignation. There were two hastily organised demonstrations in Nicosia, Tuesday and Wednesday, while the House ethics committee, on which most parties are represented, called off its scheduled meeting on Wednesday, in protest, over Syllouris’ refusal to resign. In a colossal irony, the committee was to discus the ‘code of ethics’ for deputies which had been Syllouris’ pet project as speaker. The media were also demanding he stepped down immediately.
On Thursday, the pressure had become so intense he finally stepped down as speaker and gave up his parliamentary seat. His original plan to ride it out, by offering to abstain from his duties until the police investigation was completed in two, three or six months, would not work given the mass rage. Syllouris had made people even angrier with his unconvincing defence of his shabbily unethical behaviour caught on video, claiming he was acting as some kind of investigator, trying to glean information from the representatives of the fictitious Chinese man. Even his claims that he reported what had happened at the meeting, a few days later, to the police did not wash.
He was defending the indefensible, fanning public anger by doing so and giving the impression that he thought he could get away with it. He could not. He had embarrassed his country internationally – even he could not deny this – and then did what most politicians do – he refused to take responsibility for his actions, insisting he had not broken any law, as if his deeply unethical behaviour was immaterial. It did not even cross his mind that a certain standard of behaviour is expected from the Number 2 in the state hierarchy and our view this does not include advising people with criminal records how to secure Cypriot citizenship.
Syllouris should have stepped down on Monday, immediately after the Al Jazeera video was shown because his position had become untenable. At least his refusal to do so gave people the satisfaction of forcing him out.