As the day of his exit approached, President Anastasiades seems determined to leave office with his personal popularity on a high. This is an unrealistic objective for anyone who has been in office for 10 years, as people grow tired of them, yearn for change and are not inclined to be very charitable in their view of an outgoing president. The two presidents that sought re-election after two terms – Spyros Kyprianou and Glafcos Clerides – were resoundingly defeated because people had had enough and wanted someone new.
Yet Anastasiades seems to be under the illusion that he can buck the trend and because he was not seeking re-election he could leave office after 10 years on a wave of popularity. In the pursuit of this popularity, he has taken some decisions that have shattered any credibility his presidency still had and betrayed a lack of consistency, which does not reflect positively on him.
Some 10 days ago, he signed the law on the three-month suspension of the foreclosures law which he had referred back to the legislature two weeks earlier. His finance minister, speaking presumably on behalf of the government had publicly criticised the law, saying it could jeopardise the country’s credit rating, while Anastasiades himself had argued that suspension of foreclosures benefited strategic loan defaulters, when sending the law back to the House. As parliament had rejected his referral, he could have sent it to the supreme court or signed it and he did the latter.
He had signed it, said his spokesman, because when he had referred an earlier suspension of the foreclosures law to the supreme court it ruled that it was constitutional, and there would be no point asking for a ruling again. Of course, he could still have refused to sign it on the grounds that it undermined the rule of law as it was designed to help people refusing to honour their contractual obligations. He chose the path of least resistance, the path that would spare him of opposition criticism.
On Monday Anastasiades signed the law on sex education, drafted and approved by the legislature, disregarding the opinion of the attorney-general, who had said it was unconstitutional. His education minister had also been warning about the unconstitutionality of this law, which violated the separation of powers, but Anastasiades signed it anyway, claiming that Cyprus had to fulfil its obligations under international agreements it had signed. Despite being the custodian of the constitution, he signed a law that in the opinion of the legal advisor of the state was unconstitutional so as not to face a showdown with the opposition parties. It was not a very responsible stance.
His quest for public approval may also explain the erratic government handling of the threatened strike by EAC unions that would have led to power cuts in some towns. When the unions had threatened to stop work on six units at the Dhekelia power station, that would have led to a reduction in the power supply, the government had taken the decision not to engage in talks with the unions over their demands as this was the responsibility of the EAC board. Demands were not related to work conditions and pay but an attempt by unions dictate EAC policies and recruitment, which the energy and finance ministers, quite rightly, decided not to discuss with union bosses.
On Tuesday morning, a day before the power cuts were scheduled to start and with public discontent growing, the president said differences must be resolved through dialogue, despite the decision for no dialogue with EAC unions on issues of policy. There was also a decision taken by the council of ministers not to accept any demands after November 1, aware that unions and organised groups could try to exploit the election period, during which the government is thought to be more vulnerable to pressure.
Fearing the public backlash that would be caused by power cuts, labour minister Kyriakos Koushos undertook the initiative (on the president’s orders we assume) to meet the unions to which he promised to arrange meetings with the ministers of energy and finance. This made a complete mockery of the government decision not to accept demands after November 1 and made fools of his ministerial colleagues who had decided not to engage in talks about policy with the unions. In exchange for the promise of the meetings, the unions called off the strike.
Koushos also took a public swipe at his colleagues, declaring that “when a course that leads to deadlock is followed, and there are strike measures and refusal as a matter of principle by the government to engage in discussions, we cannot resolve problems.” In short, the government should put its principles in the rubbish bin, subject itself to the embarrassment of going against its own decisions and bow to the unions. No meetings have been arranged between unions and ministers and on his return to work on Monday Anastasiades could have a small cabinet crisis to deal with.
Decisions dictated by a desire to leave office on a popular note could have the opposite effect, not to mention the poor light in which they put the president.