It was a day full of surprises at Disy headquarters on Tuesday. At the start of the day, three men were scheduled to submit their candidacies for the party leadership, but by the 1pm deadline two of them had pulled out while House president Annita Demetriou had arrived and put the her name forward. In the end, she and party spokesman Demetris Demetriou became the only contenders in a fight for the Disy leadership in a contest that is certain to be won by a Demetriou.
The biggest surprise of the day was the decision of Averof Neophytou, leader of the party for the last ten years and its unsuccessful candidate in the presidential elections, to step down. Few had seen this coming, but he was right not to put himself at risk of suffering the embarrassment of a second election defeat within a few weeks. Even a marginal victory would have drastically undermined his authority and made it very difficult for him to run a party that was deeply divided.
Neophytou is not without responsibility for the situation in the party, even though he has been undermined by associates and President Nicos Anastasiades, who still wields great influence over party members and played a part in the leader’s disappointing electoral showing and, ultimately, his downfall. That the presidential palace found the fertile ground to undermine Neophytou also reflects negatively on the leader, who had failed to unite the party around him despite being in charge for ten years.
Perhaps the change of leadership is what the party now needs. Two young politicians will be contesting the top post and the winner expected to unite the party, give it direction and define its role, either in opposition or as government supporter. Being in opposition would help it regroup and re-discover the political direction it had lost in the last ten years, when it acted as the promoter of the government’s policy, in which it had little say, but loyally supported. Another priority of the new leader must be to end Anastasiades’ influence and meddling in the party.
There are two-and-a-half weeks to go before the Disy leadership election, which could result in the party having a woman as leader for the first time in its history. That would be the biggest surprise yet, caused by the day of surprises at Disy. And it would be a very welcome – and much-needed – surprise to see the country’s traditionally male-dominated, party being led by a young and capable woman.
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