President Nikos Christodoulides replaced four of his ministers on Monday in a partial reshuffle that had been widely anticipated.

Effective from Wednesday, Vasilis Palmas will take over from Michalis Giorgallas as defence minister; Maria Panayiotou from Petros Xenophontos as agriculture minister; Marios Hartsiotis from Anna Procopiou as justice minister; and Michalis Damianos from Popi Kanari as health minister.

In addition, Nikodemos Damianou was appointed deputy minister of innovation, research and digital policy. He will replace Philippos Hadjizacharias.

Moreover, Marilena Raouna was named as the Deputy Minister of European Affairs, Panayiotis Palates as the Commissioner for Citizens, Charalambos Christophinis as the Commissioner for Mountainous Regions, and Antonia Theodosiou as Commissioner for the Environment.

In a statement, Christodoulides expressed “his sincere gratitude for the service rendered by the outgoing ministers and their commendable cooperation during their tenure.”

When he announced the decision to reshuffle members of the cabinet at the end of December, Christodoulides said “the decisions will be taken solely by me.”

This was confirmed by government spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis on Monday afternoon.

“The appointment of the new members of the cabinet was not a product of party conciliation but a personal choice of the president, in accordance with the powers granted to him by the Constitution,” he said.

“As the party leaders have indicated, this [reshuffle] was not a product of discussions but was based on the president’s assessments.”

He added that the current cabinet is made of politicians from different parties who, at the same time “have technical knowledge in relation to the subject and the portfolio they will take up”.

“What is important is that such decisions are not taken on the basis of partisan deals or exclude people who are capable and can contribute to the portfolio they are taking on,” Letymbiotis said.

However, on Sunday it emerged that the political parties that supported Christodoulides were completely caught off guard by his intention for a cabinet reshuffle.

According to information from the parties, the heads of the three parties – Dipa, Edek and Diko – had expressed concern over some ministerial choices in the past over the management of certain issues.

Christodoulides has said he would announce a reshuffle before 18 months of his presidency were up. This was taken to mean the motive could be to prevent ministers from benefiting from pensions.

For the last week speculation has been rife about who would be kept in and who would be out of a job.

Announcing that a reshuffle was on the cards on December 31, Christodoulides said all the replacement ministers, deputy ministers and commissioners would have significant expertise in their respective fields.

Palmas, the new defence minister, served as president of the youth wing of the Democratic Party (Nedik) and as general secretary of Diko. He also acted as the director of the president’s press office and government spokesman in the Tasos Papadopoulos administration.

He also served as a deputy minister to President Nicos Anastasiades government, a position he held until February 2 2022, when he resigned for personal reasons.

Until now, the new agriculture minister Panayiotou served as the environment commissioner in the Christodoulides administration. She has a master’s degree in architecture, specialising in ecological building and restoration of architectural heritage monuments.

The new justice minister, Hartsiotis, has been running his own law office in Limassol since 1990.

Damianos, the new health minister, is also a lawyer and has served as a municipal councillor in the Strovolos municipality from 2011 to 2016. He has also been the Diko vice president since 2018.

Later on Monday Panayiotou said “there is a lot of work to be done ahead.”

She thanked Christodoulides “for the honour and his trust”, adding that she will work with dedication to live up to the expectations.

Meanwhile, her replacement at the environmental commission Antonia Theodosiou said the developments regarding Akamas will be among her top priorities, adding that in next days she will be better informed on what duties she will need to carry out in her new role.

Akel leader Stefanos Stefanou also weighed in on the reshuffle, harshly criticising the current administration.

“The fact that a government is obliged in the first ten months to announce, discuss and finally reshuffle [the cabinet] is an expression of the great disappointment caused by the first ten months of the country’s governance, a governance that brought neither new spirit nor new air, nor demonstrated the ability to handle even the simplest issues,” Stefanou said in a statement.

“The people want solutions to existing and very pressing problems, such as, for example, the cost of living, which harms the families’ budget and puts under great pressure small and medium enterprises.”