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Disy leader has to unite a divided party

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The two rival Demetrious (Christos Theodorides)
How Disy reached the ‘most critical turning point in its history’

The task Disy’s new party leader faces is no easy feat. Over the past year, the party has made the headlines for all the wrong reasons, transforming from one of the strongest parties in the country, to a publicly fragmented shell of what it used to be.

Though it has historically conveyed a very united front, Disy’s split was impossible to hide once the presidential race went into full throttle. Even the former president of the country Nicos Anastasiades, formerly the party leader, appeared to throw his weight behind erstwhile Disy member Nikos Christodoulides, rather than favouring the official party candidate Averof Neophytou.

The rift was so stark that Neophytou called it “the elephant in the room”.

Despite numerous pledges Anastasiades made that he was firmly behind Neophytou, Diko leader Nicolas Papadopoulos all but cemented the doubts, after he told reporters that Anastasiades congratulated him on the night of the first round of elections for getting Christodoulides through to the run-off. In fact, as soon as it became apparent that Neophytou was left out of the running, Anastasiades called him along with other Disy and cabinet members to the presidential palace where he pushed for Christodoulides’ candidacy.

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The presidential elections were the first time a Disy candidate failed to make it into the final round, a huge blow to Neophytou and the party.

Disy’s split now wide open, both candidates in Saturday’s election for party leader, House president Annita Demetriou and MP Demetris Demetriou, stressed unity is key for the party.

Beginning of the split

The seeds of division were sown from at least 2021 – though critics of Christodoulides argue his presidential ambitions began long before that, and efforts were orchestrated behind the scenes in a long lead up.

Christodoulides was appointed as government spokesman in 2014 where he held the post until 2018, when he became foreign minister.

Rumours sporadically began surfacing around two years ago, hinting that Christodoulides was using his post as a means to lay the groundwork for a presidential bid, attending local events that would enable him to get ‘closer to the people’.

At the time it was all speculation. However the first very visible and public clash came during Disy’s political bureau in December 2021. Finance minister at the time Constantinos Petrides called out Christodoulides, damning “the hypocrisy of those who are sucking up to a presidency”.

The bureau was part of Neophytou’s orchestrated effort to push Christodoulides to state his intentions, by calling for early elections that would choose Disy’s presidential candidate.

Christodoulides, as a member of Disy was expected to attend – and thus be transparent about his ambitions or lack thereof. Nonetheless, he sent a letter saying he had other duties to attend to and said early elections would be a burden on the government’s efforts.

His tactic was seen as avoidance, with the party’s official line stressing that anyone who was part of the party should follow its procedures over the presidential election candidates.

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Anastasiades was described as “the elephant in the room”

Neophytou could see that Christodoulides was an evident threat to his candidacy. The pressure was upped all-round as it also raised the question of why Anastasiades was effectively enabling this to move forward.

Neophytou upped the ante, and Christodoulides announced his resignation as foreign minister in January last year. Even then, he avoided stating his presidential ambitions but painted a picture of himself falling prey to Neophytou’s efforts to edge him out, and him complying for the sake of the government and party.

A unanimous vote during Disy’s Supreme Council in March ratified Neophytou as the party’s presidential candidate in March.

Two months later, Christodoulides announced he was running as president of the Republic as an independent candidate.

Throughout the entire campaign, he stressed he was an independent, seen as somewhat of a bizarre statement as he was still a member of Disy but had clearly steered away from the party’s official lines.

His tactic however secured him the support of Diko, Dipa, Edek and, of course, a large chunk of Disy voters. Many kept a low profile but there were others like Petrides who had no qualms in calling Christodoulides a defector.

When he submitted his official candidacy in January 2023, he was immediately struck off from the party register.

With Neophytou out of the running in the first round of elections last month, all eyes were set on his next move. Would he place Disy in square opposition to the man who took many Disy votes from him? Or would they kiss and make up for a few ministerial posts?

No to defectors

The political bureau meeting was an answer. Neophytou walked into cheers and cries of “no to defectors, no to traitors!”

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The meeting went well into the night

Anastasiades did not attend the meeting with some saying “just as well” after former education minister Prodromos Prodromou was mobbed by Disy supporters outside the hall. He had called on Disy to support Christodoulides, on the very night Neophytou was left out of the presidential race.

The party decided to go for a free vote, without an official stance over whether Disy would support Christodoulides or Akel-backed Andreas Mavroyiannis.

According to exit polls, 52 per cent of those who voted for Neophytou in the first round of presidential, moved to vote for Christodoulides in the run-off.

Interestingly, of those who voted Disy during the 2021 parliamentary elections, around 70 per cent supported Christodoulides during the 2023 presidential elections.

Neophytou also announced party leadership elections slated for March 11, which drew the ire of certain party members for it being a suffocating deadline that would not allow interested parties to actually prepare a proper campaign. He said he would stand.

Party deputy leader Haris Georgiades also announced his candidacy only to withdraw shortly before House president Annita Demetriou stated she was running for the post.

The party’s former spokesman and current MP Demetris Demetriou said Disy was “at the most critical turning point in its history” when he put himself in the running. He was the first to do so.

The day of officially submitting candidacies on February 21 was met with a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity. Rumours abounded that Annita Demetriou was making calls to other interested candidates including Georgiades and the other Demetriou to test the waters.

She stated she would not run against Neophytou.

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Neophytou and his wife leaving the Disy offices after he withdrew from the race

Georgiades withdrew, Demetris Demetriou stayed to fight it out and then Neophytou bowed out with three words: dignity, responsibility and unity.

Questioned by journalists about his next steps, Neophytou said that he will remain politically active for his country and his party.

Asked if he believed Anastasiades had undermined him during the elections, Neophytou did not respond.

Anastasiades praised Neophytou’s withdrawal from the race saying it was for the good of the party allowing for its renewal.

Both Demetrious running for the party leadership post have stated Disy will remain in opposition, but questions remain over whether Christodoulides will be allowed to return to the party – if he so desires.

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