Cyprus society has really moved on when the country’s conservative, traditionally male-dominated party can elect a 37-year-old woman as its leader. And it was not a narrow victory for House president Annita Demetriou, who took more than twice as many votes as her rival for the party leadership, Demetris Demetriou, until last month the party spokesman.
Seventy per cent of the vote can be described as a landslide victory, even if just 40 per cent of the party members turned up to vote. It is a strong mandate for Demetriou who in less than two years was elected president of the House of Representatives and leader of the biggest party. And she is still only 37 years old, extremely young by Cyprus standards, for top political office.
It is a reflection of her determination and self-belief that she jumped at the opportunity to stand for the leadership of Disy, when she could have bided her time until conditions were more favourable. She could have stayed as House president for another three years, raising her public profile and building her political capital in a safe ceremonial post, in which she would never be criticised or questioned.
Disy is deeply divided, split into factions, one of which is still under the self-serving influence of Nicos Anastasiades, who had undermined the Disy presidential candidate and wanted the party to join the Christodoulides government. Demetriou’s election ensures that this will not happen – she repeatedly said she would respect the political bureau’s decision of keeping Disy in opposition, something that is certain to make enemies within the party.
Ultimately, it will be up to the new leader to pull the party together and make it move in one direction. Some would argue that she does not have the experience or the political savvy to for such a demanding job, but it is up to her to prove them wrong. If she does and makes a success of her leadership, the top state post will come within reach. Failure, in contrast, would mean the end of her political career.
It is a high stakes game she has chosen to play, but the fact she was prepared to take the biggest possible risk, so early in her career, shows that she does not shy away from any challenge. Of course, now she has to show that she is capable of meeting the many difficult ones she is facing.