Politicians and media commentators often warn about the growing disillusionment of people with politics, citing the declining turn out for elections and the thousands of youngsters not registering on the electoral roll. These warnings are supported by the disparaging views expressed on social media about the parties and the low regard shown for the government.
This apathy, which admittedly is not a phenomenon specific to Cyprus, has been boosted by the self-serving and self-perpetuating political system that has no interest in political ideas, real public debate and long-term planning and strategy. Clientelism is the only ideology politicians embrace, pandering to interest groups, distributing the spoils of power among their supporters, squandering the taxpayer’s money and avoiding backing unpopular but necessary decisions lest they alienate voters.
Politics is now about serving the customer, who, as they say in the restaurant trade, is always right. And if there are a lot seated at the same table they will be given whatever they ask for because nobody wants to lose their custom. This is why the big unions are now running the country, politicians not daring to say anything about the harm they have been doing the country. We have a failing education system designed to serve the teachers rather than students, we have a national health system that is being milked dry by doctors and will eventually run out of money, an overstaffed, grossly overpaid civil service interested only in expanding its privileges and bank employees demanding a king’s ransom to go into voluntary retirement.
And nobody cares because these are customers that could swing an election. The taxpayers, who pick up the bills for these excesses are an amorphous and silent mass that are thrown a few crumbs by the politicians every so often. An illustration of this was provided by the opposition parties on Thursday when they approved a bill scrapping the 19 per cent VAT on the ‘fuel adjustment’ item on an EAC bill and on the consumer tax on fuel. Opposition parties had to be seen to be doing something about the soaring fuel and electricity prices regardless of the consequences for public finances.
The government spokesman said this would deprive the state of revenues of €150 million, while the president had asked the opinion of the attorney-general, regarding the constitutionality of these bills. These blanket measures will benefit those with the biggest houses and most powerful cars, who pay the highest bills and provide very small relief to low-income households, but the opposition parties do not care about such details as long as they are seen dealing with the expensiveness people face in their everyday lives. Nor do they seem to care that these measures would deprive the state of money it could have used to support low-income households. It is a superficial way of creating positive impressions.
As if this were not bad enough, opposition parties also suspended foreclosure procedures for another three months, in the case of primary residences, professional premises and farmland up to a certain value. This is an ongoing farce, the parties in effect protecting strategic defaulters, whom they present as victims. In any other country, no person who had not repaid their housing for several years would be protected by law makers and parties.
Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides, a voice of reason in this desert of superficiality who shuns toxic populism of the political system, pointed out that someone else would pick up the bill left by the strategic defaulters. He also thanked deputies that resisted the calls of populism and “voted against a proposal that negates commitments made by the Cyprus Republic with the institutions of the EU and which puts at risk the sound operation and stability of the economy, and irreparably exposes the trustworthiness of the Cyprus Republic.” It is something that there is still one politician prepared to offer a reality check.
Sadly, reality is a no-go area for today’s politicians, who deal exclusively in pleasant sounding platitudes they hope will boost their popularity ratings. It is no coincidence that in opinion polls for the presidential elections, the most apolitical candidate who has made a career out of saying nothing of substance and having no position on anything is by far the most popular. He is smartly exploiting the void created by the parties which have turned politics into something that turns most people off, particularly from younger age groups.
The parties have killed politics with their self-serving opportunism and populism aimed at keeping the customer happy, regardless of the cost to the country. When and how we will emerge from this malaise is not something anyone can forecast.