Cyprus Mail

‘Three out of 10’ – president’s first 100 days

cyprus president nikos christodoulides and former president nicos anastasiades shake hands during an official transfer of power ceremony in nicosia
Conventional wisdom has it that President Christodoulides is keen to keep his predecessor Nicos Anastasiades in his corner.
Christodoulides undermined by appointments, Cyprus problem and cost of living allowance

On balance, Nikos Christodoulides’ first 100 days as president have been somewhat underwhelming – a view shared by many mainstream and non-mainstream experts. Some would give the new administration the thumbs-down – both on domestic affairs and the Cyprus issue – as a sense of disappointment and deflation sets in after the enthusiastic sloganeering of the election campaign.

“I’d give the president three out of 10 so far,” a source tells the Cyprus Mail.

The source, a former diplomat speaking to us on condition of anonymity, does however qualify that the low score partly has to do with the high expectations that Christodoulides cultivated during the election campaign.

“In truth, the president is a victim of the high bar he set for himself.”

Whereas it’s become customary to rate a new administration’s first 100 days in power – that number seems to hold some symbolism – some would counter that it’s still early days. It’s a fair point, although the counter to that might be that the so-called ‘grace period’ does gives a taste of what to expect going forward.

During his investiture ceremony in the House on February 28, Christodoulides talked big. “I will work to make the lives of everyone in Cyprus better,” he pledged.

In a poll commissioned by daily Politis and released last weekend, just 26 per cent gave the new administration a positive rating. A further 19 per cent of respondents rated it neither negatively nor positively. The negative ratings stood at 55 per cent. Comparing to the actual election result, it’s clear the government is “taking a hit”.

That’s not unusual, though, and compared to prior administrations for the same timeframe the current government doesn’t fare too badly. But the gripes are bubbling up to the surface. Even a cursory look at Facebook reveals a sense of dejection – including from people who got swept up in the election campaign excitement.

Taken point by point, the scorecard for the new administration doesn’t look good. A number of appointments as ministerial ‘advisors’ – persons either very young, supposedly unqualified and with ties to Christodoulides’ camp – backfired spectacularly.

“Nepotism at its best,” comments our source. “Sure, you might say everybody does it, but the difference here is that Christodoulides promised he’d part with the old ways.”

Other criticism about personnel relates to the ministers. Christodoulides had ruled out appointing people who had previously served as ministers – only to backtrack. So he gave ministerial posts to Makis Keravnos and Constantinos Ioannou, the finance and interior ministers, respectively.

Then, more recently, came the appointment to the head of the intelligence service of hard-line rejectionist Tasos Tzionis – brought back out of retirement. Tzionis is also to act as ‘overseer’ of the National Security Council. More points deducted.

As to policies, various moves have imparted the sense that this is an administration going for the ‘people pleasing’ effect. There was the issue of the Cost of Living Allowance, resolved (temporarily) by tilting heavily in favour of the trade unions. There were the 2,000 jobs in the civil service. Also the reduction of VAT on certain essential items – outwardly positive, but the jury’s still out as to its actual effectiveness in easing the financial burden on people. And elsewhere the finance minister’s commitment to pressure the banks on interest rates.

Again, too early to call it, but these policies do suggest Christodoulides will go big on spending and cause deficits. The ‘good news’ is that the economy seems to be holding up.

“All things considered, the economy is doing fine, tourism especially. So you could say the president has got a lucky break,” the source weighs in.

Governing will present problems. Christodoulides may have trouble passing legislation without the backing of Disy – the party many feel he ‘double-crossed’. That has been evident, to take one example, with the bill for creating an ‘e-basket’ that’s supposed to boost transparency in the foodstuffs retail market. On this, Disy are refusing to play ball.

Perhaps – as daily Politis has suggested – this explains why several of the government’s policies are borrowed from the previous Disy-led administration of Nicos Anastasiades. That includes subsidising electricity bills, or the ambitious ‘Ktizo’ scheme for demolishing unsafe buildings in refugee housing estates – actually a carry-over from the previous administration, but the current interior minister gets the credit for it.

On June 19, the president will host a news conference assessing his government’s first 100 days. It will be interesting to see how he spins it – they all do, after all – but also how many decisions the cabinet will rush through until then to show that they are ‘producing work’, so to speak.

Coming back to the governance conundrum, Christodoulides’ recent tete-a-tete with Anastasiades at the presidential palace certainly didn’t go unnoticed. Conventional wisdom has it that the president is keen to keep Anastasiades in his corner, so that Anastasiades in turn can wield influence on a segment of his Disy party and get them to support the government’s policies.

“It certainly looks that way,” agrees the former diplomat.

On the Cyprus issue, and in particular on Christodoulides big to-do about the appointment of an EU envoy or mediator, the former diplomat has some strong opinions.

“It’s just reheated food. Nothing new about the idea, in fact greater EU involvement goes back to Anastasiades and even Glafcos Clerides. We saw the EU getting involved in the Annan plan, and then how expectations were dashed during the presidency of Tassos Papadopoulos. Incidentally, Tzionis – who now heads up the intelligence service – is thought to have given Papadopoulos major feedback for the speech where the then-president urged Greek Cypriots to vote ‘No’ in the upcoming referendum on the Annan plan.”

The source also wonders why, if Christodoulides appears so keen on the EU envoy issue, he doesn’t directly ask the UN secretary-general to appoint a Cyprus envoy of his own.

Asked point-blank whether Christodoulides’ EU envoy pitch amounts to a hollow, time-wasting tactic, the source said: “Probably yes.”

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