Although the presidential election is still 15 months away and none of the opposition parties have started discussing alliances let alone possible candidates, Disy is already in a bit of tangle over who their candidate will be, because of Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides’ interest in standing. As a result, Disy has started talking about the 2023 election long before it is necessary to do so, creating the impression that divisions are developing within the party which would be expected to back the candidacy of its leader Averof Neophytou.
Things, however, are not that straightforward because Christodoulides, without publicly declaring an interest in being a presidential candidate, has been campaigning for some time now, making appearances at events all over the country. Most are events in the countryside where a foreign minister would never visit under normal circumstances. Christodoulides does so because he has a different agenda. Neophytou has also embarked on a countrywide tour, meeting and shaking hands with voters, but he is not a government minister with a responsibility of conducting state affairs. He is a party leader, answerable to his party and nobody else.
A couple of weeks ago, Disy deputy leader Harris Georgiades felt the need to take a stand on the issue of Christodoulides’ presidential ambitions, saying there was no question of him standing as an independent candidate. If he wanted to stand, he would have to go through the party selection process, said Georgiades. Christodoulides would be reluctant to do so as he has no chance of defeating the party leader in such a contest. His only option is to stand as an independent but this could split the Disy vote and deal a heavy blow to Neophytou’s prospects of going through to the second round.
The foreign minister, quite smartly, did not respond to Georgiades, sticking to his policy of saying nothing in public about the elections or his presidential ambitions. This was left to his supporters in the press who penned scathing articles against Georgiades for speaking out about the matter and for insisting Christodoulides could not stand as an independent. They had a point. Anyone can stand in the presidential elections without the backing of a party, if they choose to do so.
The only problem is that Christodoulides is currently serving as the country’s foreign minister, chosen by the president to do a specific job which does not include conducting an election campaign at the taxpayer’s expense. We have every right to ask what his priority is – is it to run the foreign ministry and focus on achieving the government’s foreign policy objectives or is it to tour the country to shake hands and gather votes? Senior officials at the ministry privately complain that he has no time for ministry affairs because his main concern is preparing for his public appearances.
He can act in this way because President Anastasiades, for unknown reasons, has chosen to turn a blind eye to his foreign minister’s campaigning and lack of commitment to the job he was appointed to do. That he tolerates such shabby and unprofessional behaviour by one of his top ministers is another illustration of the disrepute the government has fallen into. It is thanks to this presidential tolerance that Christodoulides has had no qualms showing blatant favouritism to his wife whom he has appointed to top jobs at the ministry, ahead of higher-ranked diplomats (she is currently acting Secretary-General for EU Affairs), even though it is against public service rules for the minister’s spouse to work in the same ministry. The minister’s wife has been based in Nicosia for the last seven-and-a-half years without being posted abroad, which is also a violation of foreign ministry rules and another case of privileged treatment.
Ultimately the responsibility for all this belongs to Anastasiades who as the president could and should have set higher standards of behaviour for his ministers, demanding full commitment to their job. If he does, it does not apply to his foreign minister who has brazenly used his post to promote himself and pursue his presidential ambitions.
We are not censuring Christodoulides for having presidential ambitions. He has every right to set his sights on the country’s top post and to stand as an independent, but he should have the decency to do so at his own expense and not when his wages are paid by the taxpayer. And he should have the decency not to hold an important ministerial post when his commitment and priorities are elsewhere.