By Efi Xanthou

So once again Cyprus is rocked by a political upheaval out of nowhere. President Nikos Christodoulides started a whole discussion about an imminent restructuring of his cabinet, creating a media frenzy of his own doing. Worse than that, he left his cabinet in confusion, since nobody could really be sure what his intentions were.

Through his public undermining of their capabilities, he had basically left them crippled, politically and administratively. This did not only affect the four ministers, one deputy minister and one commissioner that he actually reshuffled, but all of them, since his vague threats left them all hanging.

The president opened a whole can of worms with an interview he gave to Phileleftheros newspaper, basically bragging that he was the one making the decisions, that the rumours that he would be sacking ministers were true, and he did not feel obligated to wait for the first 18 months to pass before the reshuffle.

This of course started our New Year with a whole array of media speculation over who were getting the sack, with numerous articles claiming inside sources appearing in all media outlets on the reasons this or that minister was in deep trouble. The kicker came when a few days later, during their first cabinet meeting of the year, the president promised minister would be the first to know if they were to be let go, that they would hear it from him and not from the media. This led to the first resignation (that of the deputy minister for innovation Philippos Hadjizachariou) which obviously expedited the president’s timeframe, since there was talk of four more ministers handing in their resignation, instead of waiting for him to sack them.

So the president spent last weekend gathering his notes and (perhaps) talking with close associates, but definitely not speaking to the political leaders of his coalition government to get their insight into possible replacements. The interesting detail that came out is that he actually called up the president of the Cyprus Greens, asking him to hand over two names for a possible ministerial position in his new cabinet. Perdikis stated that his public comments that the Greens were open to participate in Christodoulides’ government were misconstrued and that he had meant that if the president changed his policies to align them with the Greens’ priorities, then had no prejudices in joining his cabinet. He says he declined the president’s offer because the timeframe given was not enough to consult the party’s governing bodies.

The president, on his own initiative it seems, contacted Antonia Theodosiou, a founder-member of the Cyprus Greens and a member of its central committee, to take up the position of environment commissioner since he was turned down by Perdikis. This was all apparently happening on January 7, late at night. The new cabinet was to be announced the next morning, so an answer had to be imminent. Perdikis says that Theodosiou contacted him for his opinion and he urged her not to take up the position. Obviously, she was not convinced since she responded positively to the president’s offer.

On Monday, the president presented his new cabinet, sacking four ministers, replacing his resigned deputy minister and appointing three new commissioners. And while the media were in a flurry to find info on the new people appointed and informing the public on why these four ministers were chosen for the sack, the Green Party leader was conveying its disapproval of the president’s choice in appointing a Greens environmental commissioner. He and Green MP Papadouris stated publicly that this appointment in no way made the Greens a partner in Christodoulides government.

Taking into account that previous appointments followed this exact pattern, I fail to understand why the issue was pushed with such vehemence. Both Charalambos Theopemptou and Ioanna Panayiotou, who were and continue to be active members of the Cyprus Greens were appointed by former presidents Demetris Christofias and Nikos Anastasiades respectively, with no one believing for a second that the Greens were suddenly in coalition with their governments.

Coming back to the president’s disastrous political PR moves, I believe it is safe to say that no political party was happy with the president’s decisions and the way he dealt with them. All political parties blamed him for political manoeuvres that left him and his government exposed, and the coalition parties and the Greens displayed their resentment over not being asked.

So, what is the abridged version of President Christodoulides’s reshuffle? He reduced his female ministers by appointing one but sacking two, leaving the cabinet with only two female ministers. To avoid any confusion, he does have four female deputy ministers, but they are not cabinet members, even though they may be present at their meetings. Thus two out of eleven ministers gives us a measly 18 per cent of female cabinet representation, a far cry from the 50 per cent representation he had promised. If we become magnanimous and include the deputy ministers as well, then we have six female ministers in a 16 member cabinet, bringing the percentage up to a 37 per cent.

The president also violated the promise to not appoint previous cabinet members and deputy ministers, originally by appointing the current Interior Minister Konstantinos Ioannou, and now by appointing Vasilis Palmas, who had been deputy minister to the presidency under the Anastasiades government. He also violated his promise not to appoint party bigwigs, by appointing Maria Panayiotou as minister of agriculture (she had been the Edek press officer) and Michalis Damianou health minister who remains Diko vice president and has stated that he sees no problem or conflict of interest in maintaining both positions.

As a parting gift, I inform readers that he also appointed Marios Hartziotis as justice minister. He has been the legal counsel of the Limassol bishop for a great number of years, a gesture that is perceived to be an effort to strengthen his ties to the church.

I suppose it remains to be seen whether this reshuffling will help the president bring back his lost lustre and deliver his promises, but I think it obvious that this will still be an uphill battle for him, with his coalition parties becoming even more displeased with his latest escapades.

Efi Xanthou is a political scientist, feminist and eco-activist