By a majority vote, parliament on Thursday gave the thumbs-down to President Nicos Anastasiades’ challenge to legislation on local government reform – the fate of which could now hang in the balance.
With main opposition Akel, Diko, the Greens and Elam banding together the vote went 29 to 22 in rejecting the president’s challenge. Three MPs from socialists Edek abstained.
On March 3, and after about a decade of discussions and haggling, parliament passed the legislative package which created 20 municipalities (down from 30) as well as 30 local council clusters. The transition period to full implementation would run through to May 2024.
On March 28, the president sent back to parliament the section of the laws relating to the creation of the Akamas and Polis municipalities – following last-minute rearrangements of the communities falling under these two municipalities made by political parties and deviating from the government blueprint as submitted.
In his subsequent challenge, the president argued among others that the administrative authority to create or merge municipalities rests with the executive branch of government alone.
Parliament next had the option of accepting or rejecting the president’s challenge. Having rejected it, Anastasiades can now either agree to drop his challenge and therefore sign the laws as passed in March, or stick to his guns and refer the laws to the supreme court.
It’s understood that should the president opt for the latter, and the matter ends up in litigation, that would hold up the implementation of the entire local government reform plan – not just the part relating to Akamas and Polis.
It could also freeze any re-zoning plans in the affected areas until the dispute is definitively resolved.
Speaking on the House floor after the president’s challenge was defeated, Akel MP Aristos Damianou appealed to Anastasiades to withdraw his challenge altogether. Otherwise, he warned, it will spell trouble for the whole reform endeavour.
Damianou called it “inconceivable” that, for the sake of eight communities with a combined population of 1,500, the president risks torpedoing the effort.
“The government has poked its own eyes out,” he remarked.
The Akel deputy tied the president’s action to the fate of Akamas – a designated protected area. He said the government is using the Akamas management plan as a pretext in this case, even though it has not even submitted that plan.
Diko deputy Christos Senekkis likewise said that the president’s challenge to the legislation “constitutes a bomb planted at the foundation of [local government] reform.”
One of the last unspoiled areas on the island, Akamas has for years been a battleground between environmentalists anxious to ensure its protection and local communities lobbying for what they call mild development that will create jobs and prevent depopulation.