The horse-trading on the reform of local government has resumed, after a brief respite. Interior minister Nicos Nouris started a round of contacts with the political parties in the hope of securing support for the government’s reform proposals, which include the postponement of municipal elections, scheduled for this December, for two-and-a-half years.
Nouris has said the postponement of local elections was necessary, so there could be “a transitional period in order to build and structure the new form of local government.” This has been the government idea from the beginning, but it appears to have been shaped by expediency. Enabling mayors and municipal councilors to extend their time in office by two-and-a-half years is a form of reward in exchange for their support (or at least lack of opposition) for the reform proposals. Another two-and-a-half years of collecting public pay is quite an incentive.
Rationally speaking, there could still be a transitional period with new mayors and municipal councils. We suspect the government fears that if new mayors and councilors are elected in December, they would insist on serving the full five years, thus preventing the reforms being implemented by May 2024 and depriving the country of the EU funding that is dependent on this deadline being met.
Given how things work in Cyprus, it will take just one municipal councilor to appeal to the supreme court, on the grounds that shortening his term to two-and-a-half years is unconstitutional. And if the supreme or constitutional court rules that it is – a possibility that cannot be ruled out – the whole reform effort would be nullified and the EU funding tap turned off.
This is a risk the government, understandably, does not want to take, hence the proposed extension of the terms of the current mayors and councilors. They would not appeal to any court because their service had been extended by 30 months. In short, the extension of the term by 30 months would seem to be the only risk-free option for the government.
What stand the political parties will take remains unclear, although all are in favour of the reform of local government, at least in theory. Of course, there is always the danger of parties backing Akel’s stupendously absurd proposal to put the reform package to a separate referendum in each municipality; with this proposal, it would take just a single municipality to vote ‘no’ for the reform to be derailed and the funding lost.
Parties are avoiding committing to the suspension of the December elections, for now, but we hope common sense will prevail and they will accept the proposal and also reject the disastrous idea for referendums. The economy depends on them acting responsibly.