The government has every right to defend itself against criticism by parties about its handling of the Cyprus problem, even though it may be engaging in this a little too frequently. What is not so acceptable is the way the government defends itself against this criticism, accusing its critic, which is Akel, of “causing harm to our national cause”.

Government spokesman Kyriakos Kousios issued a written statement attacking Akel on Sunday, and repeated his criticism verbally on Monday radio shows. His theme was whether Akel was aware of the harm it was doing. “We really wonder what this serves and what Andros Kypiranou and Akel are trying to achieve, before the informal conference in Geneva, by accusing in advance the President of the Republic and the Greek Cypriot side of a prospective deadlock,” he asked in writing.

He did not explain, however, how Akel was causing harm to our national cause because this is an abstract accusation that is always resorted to as the stock response to criticism about the Cyprus problem. Nikos Anastasiades, as leader of Disy in 2004, was accused of embarrassing his country internationally after reporting the Papadopoulous government’s use of intimidation tactics against supporters of the Annan plan ahead of the referendum. He was also accused of speaking ‘like a Turk’ by the government.

This may have been much nastier than what Kousios has been saying, but the reasoning and the motivation is very similar. It is the government’s way not only of silencing its critics, but also discrediting their views as going against the national interest, which is defined by the government. These are tactics usually employed by authoritarian regimes and have no place in a democratic country that respects free speech and open political debate.

Anastasiades is perfectly within his right to define the national interest, but Akel and anyone else have the right to question and dispute it without being accused of harming the national cause. This is just a way of avoiding debate, a useful tactic when a side does not have a very strong case. Akel, as an opposition party, has an obligation to challenge the government’s position and put some pressure on Anastasiades about the informal conference, if it fears that he will not pursue a breakthrough with any enthusiasm.

Gone are the days when everyone showed deference to the president and his handling of the Cyprus problem. If there had been more questioning and criticism of successive presidents by political parties committed to settlement, we might have reached a deal when the conditions were much more favourable than today.

If Anastasiades had been under more pressure from parties in 2017, he might have thought twice before quitting Crans-Montana.