Ever since the Republic of Cyprus was born in 1960, she has always had a problematic, moribund and president-centered system of government, which has been a constant source of problems and headaches.
It is a system allotting extensive powers to the president, without the necessary checks and balances, particularly after the withdrawal of the Turkish Cypriots from the government and the effective abolishment of the position of vice-president. Thus, the supremacy of the president, combined with the political immaturity of the Cypriots, soon led to a personality-focused political system in which the charisma of the leader was the principal criterion used in the (s)election process.
The percentage of votes secured by president Makarios (98.3 per cent) in the first post-independence elections of 1968 reflects this reality. In the next elections held in 1973, Makarios was “elected” as a consequence of being the sole candidate. The same phenomenon was observed in 1978, when – after the sudden death of Makarios – Spyros Kyprianou was declared president without an opponent, following the grotesque incident of the kidnapping of his son and the kidnappers demanding “a general amnesty for all political convicts, politicians on trial and politicians on the list of wanted persons”.
This is how the “supremacy” of the president was established as a precedent, despite the fact that the system of government never allowed a president to secure the institutional support of the country’s parliament, often resulting in the dilemma of either accepting the omnipotence of the president or of accepting a level of legislative impotence as inevitable. A good recent example of such a threat was the risk of voting down the annual state budget or yielding to the pressure of accepting the requested “compromises”.
Throughout the life of the Republic the concept of an election manifesto and of a candidate to undertake to respect it, were glaringly absent. The political manifesto, which would not have the typical elements (the ambiguity) of a Delphic oracle, shines with its absence from the Cypriot political scene, resulting in each presidential candidate seeking and getting a blank cheque on many issues of vital importance.
It is true that an analytical electoral programme is a necessary but not sufficient (in itself) condition for confronting the country’s government problem. The strict adherence to the commitments that have been undertaken and the faithful implementation of these undertakings is the second condition, which must but invariably fails to be satisfied.
Thus, we have seen many Cypriot presidents changing course at the post-election stage, on the strength of flimsy arguments that can easily be devised. A good example is the 2017 turnaround of the current holder of the position.
These thoughts bring me to Achilleas Demetriades, the son of Lellos Demetriades, Nicosia’s most successful mayor, who recently publicly announced his intention to stand as a candidate in the 2023 presidential elections.
Without doubt, Achilleas Demetriades launched his campaign to claim the presidency on the right foot. The very first thing he did was to invest the necessary effort and time to assimilate the messages transmitted by the electorate. Then, he formulated and published an “outline of positions”, focusing on Cyprus’ three most urgent needs. He identified these as (a) prompt resolution of the long-outstanding political problem of Cyprus, (b) regaining the lost credibility of Cyprus by eliminating the widespread corruption and collusion practices in the public sector and (c) realisation of his vision for 2035 in the fields of the environment, the economy, health, social justice, education, culture and sports. Achilleas Demetriades’ declared undertaking is to compile and present a detailed political manifesto by October.
I must confess that I found his approach proper and agreeable and I welcome it, even though I would have liked it to be less verbose and more explicit on critical issues, such as that of political equality. You can judge for yourself by looking at the outline of his positions, which can be found at www.achilleas.eu. The reservations I have which he must address and eliminate in the course of his election campaign, are the following:
- Cyprus’ modern political history clearly shows that candidates who do not command the support of a political party have a zero chance of being elected.
- Past experience shows that there is a pressing need to devise and provide some kind of a guarantee that departing from promises made the electoral manifesto on the strength of flimsy arguments, such as “the changed circumstances have forced us to deviate”, is not an option that will be entertained.
(c) Also imperative is the need to identify and publicly disclose – at the pre-election stage – the close associates of the presidential candidate who will occupy the key positions in the government and who will collectively assume the responsibility to deliver what has been promised. I consider this last element to be particularly important in eliminating from the political scene the one-man-show approach that has been the cause of so many sufferings.
Under these circumstances, please allow me to go against the tide and express the view that the 12-month pre-election period is by no means too long. In my opinion, it is barely sufficient. The forthcoming presidential elections will determine the future of Cyprus; they will determine the prospects of survival of the Greek Cypriots (as well as of the Turkish Cypriots) on this island. The room for mistakes has been exhausted. Public pressure on the politicians must be intensified so that ALL candidates are forced to open their cards and with honesty and courage explain to us the routes they intend to take to lead Cyprus to the port of peace, security and prosperity. We do not want them to promise to deliver heaven on earth. What we do demand is seriousness, responsible behaviour and genuine patriotism.
Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist for the Cyprus Mail, Sunday Mail and Alithia