The election of a new Disy leader on Saturday would place the country’s biggest party under the control of a relatively inexperienced politician. Neither of the contenders have a long involvement in party politics, let alone in a position of leadership in the party. The old hands, leader Averof Neophytou and deputy leader Harris Georgiades decided they would not be running, probably because they did not fancy their chances of winning, thus paving the way for House president Annita Demetriou to stand.
She will stand against former party spokesman Demetris Demetriou, who had announced his candidacy immediately after Neophytou announced the decision for a leadership election. The winner will be the fifth leader of the party in its 47-year history. Founder Glafcos Clerides spent 17 years as leader, followed by Nicos Anastasiades who was in charge for 16, both giving up the leadership on being elected president. It was ironic that Anastasiades congratulated Averof for stepping down and allowing the ‘renewal’ of the party, after ten years in charge.
Renewal was not an issue for Anastasiades when he was running the party and had turned it into a personal vehicle. It continued to be his vehicle after he left for the presidential palace, carrying on exercising his influence and undermining his successor Neophytou when he decided to stand in the presidential elections. Anastasiades’ support for Nikos Christodoulides split the party in two, although Neophytou’s leadership was not blameless, and led to overall embarrassment by the latter’s elimination from the first round.
Now, both the contestants for the leadership have set the unifying of the divided party as their priority, even though neither mentioned how they would deal with the toxic influence of Anastasiades, who has promised to carry on taking an interest in party affairs. Demetris, despite being in Neophytou’s campaign team, was regarded as a Christodoulides sympathiser during the election campaign, is less likely to stand up to end this influence. Annita, in contrast, stood up to Anastasiades when he attempted to persuade the party leadership to back Christodoulides in the run-off election.
Both candidates have stated that they intend to keep Disy in opposition, as per the decision of the political bureau, which is very important. If Disy is taken to the Christodoulides ship it would be a bad day for our democracy as we would have Akel as the only opposition party and a government that would be able to get away with anything. It would also be a betrayal of everything Disy stood for to join forces with Diko, Edek and Dipa, in the name of national unity.
What Cyprus needs now is a strong, credible opposition party that will hold the government to account and counter the populism of the parties that back the new president. It will be up to the new leader of Disy to ensure the party plays this vitally important role for our democracy, a role that would also give the party the political direction it lost after ten years in power.