By Elias Hazou and Tom Cleaver

The 2024 state budget looks set to pass the house on Wednesday after Annita Demetriou, leader of the House’s largest party Disy, threw her party’s weight behind it in her speech on Monday.

Demetriou’s speech was long and touched on a raft of local and global issues, and even offered direct criticism of the government over an inflated public sector payroll.

She also spoke of a number of amendments her party had proposed to the budget, including an income tax break for the first €39,000 married couples earn in a year and the expansion of maternity leave to 26 weeks for a mother’s first child.

However, towards the end of her speech, she confirmed that her party would vote in favour of the budget, saying “we do not choose to leave the country without public finances.”

“Such a thing would be disastrous and irresponsible, but we chart a path of responsibility and collectiveness, recognising and correcting errors and omissions,” she said.

“We consider that before us we have a budget surplus which foresees a reduction in public debt,” she said, adding that Disy would offer a vote in favour of the budget.

On the other side of the debate, Akel leader Stefanos Stefanou was scathing of the government and the budget, saying it “does not respond to the main challenges facing our country”.

“The government prefers to heap pressure onto society rather than do what many European countries are doing and support people against the rising tide of the cost of living and high interest rates,” he said.

He added that the budget is “devoid” of policies which give “depth and sustainability to economic growth”.

In addition, he said his party cannot vote in favour of the budget as “it cannot give a vote of confidence to a government which in its first ten months in office managed … to disappoint even many of its own voters.”

“There is a widespread sentiment in society that the government does not govern. It wanders, hides, and is usually content to engage in communication management.”

In his own speech, Edek leader Marinos Sizopoulos praised the government of Nikos Christodoulides, noting that in its first nine months it has delivered on a series of targeted policies – reinstating two-thirds of the Cost of Living Allowance, raising the lowest pensions by 5 per cent, subsidising electricity and fuel, and introducing zero VAT on essential items.

The Edek boss went on to say that during 2023 GDP grew by 2.5 per cent – one of the highest rates in the eurozone – while unemployment shrank to 6.4 per cent of the active labour force.

“Despite this,” he noted, “under no circumstances must we grow complacent. The mistakes of the past cannot be repeated.”

Marios Garoyian, head of the Dipa party – also part of the ruling coalition – said the economy has returned to a trajectory of stability under the stewardship of the Christodoulides government.

“The administration of president Christodoulides did not remain idle. It adopted a package of measures…so as to alleviate the hardship faced by a large section of the people, and without going beyond the state’s fiscal capabilities.”

For his part, Charalambos Theopemptou of the Greens dedicated his speech to energy and the environment.

He excoriated both the current and past administrations for not doing enough to switch to renewables, as a result of which Cypriots continue to be burdened with high energy costs.

“A family’s (in)ability to keep their house warm in winter and cool in summer, to have hot water in the bathroom, lighting, and a general insecurity in the use of energy, these are the main features of energy poverty,” said Theopemptou.

Based on Eurostat data, he added, Cyprus ranks the second worst in the EU in this area. Meanwhile around 17 per cent of the Cypriot population live under the poverty line.

The leaders of the Diko, Akel and Disy parties got 40 minutes for their remarks; the rest were allotted 30 minutes.

It remains to be seen whether the 2024 budget bill can muster enough votes to pass during Wednesday’s vote – though it looks like it will manage to scrape through.

Opposition Akel have said they will vote against the bill. Meanwhile the stance of the Greens, Elam and Volt remains unclear.

However, with Disy, Diko, Dipa, and Edek set to vote in favour of the bill, it is expected to pass Wednesday’s vote.