After months of dithering and mixed signals that gave rise to speculation about his intentions, President Nicos Anastasiades on Sunday finally spoke in a clear and direct way about next year’s presidential elections. In the speech he made to the Disy supreme council, which gathered in Nicosia to sanction the candidacy of party leader Averof Neophytou, he offered his full backing.
It was an “historic day”, he said, because the party “unanimously decides that my work will be continued by my close associate”. There was no Plan B, he said, in reference to what he had said when he was giving mixed signals. He also had an indirect dig at his former foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides, who is almost certain to stand as an independent candidate, and in so doing threatening to split Disy.
“Now, at the time of my departure, I implore you, to do just one thing: safeguard the unity of the party,” said Anastasiades, urging supporters to stand behind Neophytou. It was the first time he had taken such a clear stand since Disy’s decision last December to hold the process of choosing the party’s presidential candidate in March. Although he had expressed public support for Neophytou, the only Disy member to express an interest in standing, this was done half-heartedly; he even brought up the possibility of a Plan B in a television interview.
It was not just the dithering that raised questions about his stance. He had turned a blind eye to Christodoulides’ campaigning while foreign minister and would, most probably, have allowed him to stay in his post had he not been under pressure by the Disy leader who demanded Christodoulides made clear his intentions. Christodoulides’ resignation, given his refusal to make clear his intentions, was inevitable but he was praised to high heaven on his departure by Anastasiades, despite threatening to split Disy in two.
Such was the ambiguity of the president’s stance that as recently as the day before the Disy council gathering, Phileleftheros was reporting that the Christodoulides camp was speculating about what Anastasiades would say in this speech. “Whatever the president says or does not say at tomorrow’s supreme council will have repercussions for the Christodoulides side,” the paper reported.
In the end, he said what he had to say and nothing more. He backed the party’s leader and candidate, laid the Plan B to rest and stressed the importance of the party’s unity, which was being threatened by his closest associate and former foreign minister.
This was enough, for now, as Anastasiades’ endorsement of Neophytou’s candidacy was deemed of vital importance, given the influence he wields in the party.