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House of Cards: Elections 2023

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Disy's Averof Neophytou

By Irene Demetriou

For the binge-watcher of House of Cards, the famous screen adaptation of Michael Dobbs’ political thriller novel, the Cyprus presidential election 2023, feels like a much-anticipated Season 7. When Claire Underwood chillingly said in the series’ finale that “the road to power is paved with hypocrisy and casualties”, she must have been thinking of that small island in the Mediterranean.

The political narrative which surrounds this presidential election is a masterclass in political analysis, party politics and the psychology of personal ambition. And for those of us who like to read between the lines, it seems that the underlying text is the one which defines with precision not only what has happened, but most importantly what will.

The Democratic Rally has been faced with the mind-blowing self-realisation that the way it has embraced and nurtured its children has backfired; like any traditional family structure, this is the time you half-heartedly accept that the core family nucleus is not based on principle but on opportunistic whim: party participation is a stepping stone for personal success. In politics it almost always returns to bite you where it shouldn’t. One third of the Party members has voted for an apostate presidential candidate that has been a key party personality for years, a party favorite, a nurtured member by the highest echelons.

Averof Neophytou has capitalised, part accident part skill, his biggest loss, not through espionage but through post-election sincerity; he managed to do this by accepting defeat without attributing it strictly to party treason. This is not a story of revenge or bad blood. This is a story of self-criticism and core differences in principle and policy with Christodoulides.

Averof’s speech before the party’s political office on September 7, is possible his highest political moment: identifying the imminent need to restructure the ways through which his party gives birth and raises its children. Distracted by modern branding, digital media, tailored suits, business exchange and a superficial new-age political modernity, the Democratic Rally has remained largely stagnant in the way it works at the very core: a behind-closed-doors group, raised through youth participation and poster propaganda,  thinking that the party is tangible property and that their members owe them election (or even worse, appointment).

These are the same people who would rather defend their proclaimed apostate that the invisible enemy they have conveniently hated over the years: Akel. Football mentality at its best. It takes big courage to admit that your romantic hatred for the political “other” is the same as a divorced couple: you might not stand each other but might have to shake hands for the sake of the children.

Reading the fine, and not-so-fine, print, there are four main reasons the Democratic Rally lost the election: its close-knit approach on engaging mainly party members, ignoring the wider electorate and their issues, the loss of votes to Christodoulides, a cumulated public dislike for Anastasiades’ government and the fifth column. The fifth column famously refers to that group of subversives in the Spanish Civil War who undermined the government from within. Averof stated that he was well aware of its existence but failed to address the issue; yet some of them were still in that room on February 7. Possibly heading tables too.

At the same time, Akel has been invisible for the last decade. Shattered by their failed government and amateur politics, they have remained apathetic through a ten-year presidency of scandal and corruption. If the Democratic Rally needs to re-arrange the furniture, Akel needs a sweeping renovation; in real estate terminology, you might be impressed by the realtor, but who is going to buy a house that will fall on their head? Their presidential candidate is possibly their wisest decision yet; but Akel needs to step back, and allow the candidate to do his work. Easier said than done.

And then, we have an odd collection of former enemies, a strange blended modern family guided by ambition, and no real sense of political principle; fact. The equivalent of asking from different nationality athletes to run for the same country. And for the heavyweight parties, which have admittedly been based largely on ideal, this is not acceptable. Under any other leader, the Democratic Rally would by now ally with Christodoulides. And this is Averof’s second largest win; the party remains together by principle, not by votes. The same goes to Akel and Mavroyiannis’ absolute rejection of having any discussions with Elam – whose support he could use, but on principle, he never will. Principle will where principle can’t.

For the Democratic Rally, while Mavroyiannis’ approach for the Cyprus problem finds them in close alignment, the fear of an economic policy dictated by AKEL estranges them on basic ideology (even though in state economics, is there really ideology in 2023?), and bitter memory of AKEL’s failed presidency. The opposite is the case with Christodoulides: his economic programme is closer to what they, by ideology, accept but this blended family’s confused approach on the Cyprus problem could possibly burn the house down. The choice posed is not as simple as either Averof or any of his colleagues present: this is not a dilemma of country vs. prosperity. The two are so inextricably linked that dividing them is an anathema to any political reasoning: a strong economy is harder to attack but it won’t matter if a de-facto partition occurs.

If we have learned anything from this hugely interesting presidential election so far, is that political parties are organic and live organisations which need to be revisited and reinvented at frequent intervals. Cyprus society is a political-party society in its deep DNA. Pluralism is great and should be promoted. Independent, capable and talented people should be able to rise, whether they belong to a political party or not. At the end of the day, just like candidates, the electorate is solely human: and on principle, the party needs to clean-up every now and then, starting from the left corners of the house, all the way to the right, removing clutter.


Irene A. Demetriou

FamigliaEight, Crowdfunding Cyprus

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