Almost all the presidential candidates piled on Nicos Christodoulides on Thursday, slamming him for what they called his apparent attempt to dodge the televised debates scheduled for next month, with Christodoulides – who comfortably leads the polls – taking the flak in his stride.

The schedule for the September debates was thrown into disarray after Christodoulides’ team notified state broadcaster CyBC that he was otherwise engaged for the entire month.

In a statement on Thursday, CyBC said that Akel-backed candidate Andreas Mavroyiannis recently informed them he would not show for a debate scheduled for September 8, as he would be abroad at the time.

Following this notice, CyBC said, on Tuesday they sent out a revised debate schedule to all the candidates. The next day, they got a response from Christodoulides’ election staff, saying that Christodoulides would be campaigning across the island throughout September and would not attend any of the debates that month.

The CyBC also noted that, prior to this, all the candidates had agreed to take part in debates.

Christodoulides’ decision angered his rivals, deriding him for ‘hiding’ but also seeking to one-up the 49-year-old.

In a statement, Disy leader Averof Neophytou said of Christodoulides that “he is trying to evade his obligations to engage in democratic dialogue, by cancelling all his participations in the televised debates.

“Is this part of the ‘new political ethos’ that he likes to preach about?”

Giorgos Colocassides, another contender, asserted that Christodoulides sought to avoid public scrutiny, or to account for his track record as part of the Nicos Anastasiades administration. Christodoulides resigned as foreign minister in January this year after an almost four-year stint.

“The reality is that Mr Christodoulides finds himself in a tough spot because he will be asked to defend contradictory or very murky views he had expressed at different times,” the statement from Colocassides read.

“Mr Christodoulides is trying to run down the clock on the [election] campaign not taking any position and not committing to anything. But Democracy requires transparency and dialogue – not beating about the bush and obfuscation. The people must not allow this, and I for one shall not cease demanding clear positions and dialogue.

And presidential contender Marios Eliades dubbed Christodoulides “the phantom candidate.”

Eliades said that “whether he likes it or not, sooner or later Mr Christodoulides will be dragged in front of the Cypriot people, and there the nakedness of his non-existent ideas will be exposed. He won’t get to the finish line of the campaign acting like a phantom candidate.”

Answering the critics via Twitter, Christodoulides’ team denied he had changed plans at the last minute. It said Christodoulides will be busy campaigning in September, but would take part in three debates planned for October, on the CyBC, Omega and Sigma channels.

Following the kerfuffle, the new schedule for the September televised debates on CyBC shapes up as follows:

September 1: Averof Neophytou, Giorgos Colocassides, Marios Eliades.

September 8: Neophytou, Christos Christos,  Christodoulos Protopapas.

September 15: Mavroyiannis; Constantinos Christofides, Achilleas Demetriades.

September 22: Neophytou, Mavroyiannis, Christou.

Presidential elections will take place on 5 February 2023. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote, a runoff will be held a week later.