AKEL new leader looks to reshape future

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Cyprus’ main opposition party AKEL has a new leader, Stephanos Stephanou, elected Secretary-General by a strong majority at the end of a three-day party conference.

Stephanou, 56, a former government spokesperson, replaces Andros Kyprianou, who stepped down after holding the post for 12 years.

Stephanou received 74 votes, or 71.84% of the party’s newly elected Central Committee, against 29 votes or 28.16% garnered by his only opponent, George Loukaides, the party’s parliamentary spokesperson.

The 23rd Party Congress was attended by 1,267 members of the party, which also elected a new Central Committee.

Stephanou’s election comes as the party goes through a period of soul searching after going backwards under 65-year-old Andros Kyprianou.

Communist AKEL had its worst election showing in recent history at the May parliamentary elections, garnering just 22.3% of the vote despite the government’s popularity nose-diving.

While it suffered a 3.3% deficit compared to the 2016 vote, ruling conservative DISY held its ground, remaining the largest party with 27.7% of the vote.

AKEL’s drop in May came on top of a loss of another 7.1 percentage points in the previous elections in 2016.

Kyprianou took over in 2009, becoming AKEL General Secretary after the late Demetris Christofias became President of the Republic.

He will be remaining a party member and an MP.

The first predominantly AKEL government was tainted with leading the country into a punishing EU bailout to save the bankrupt economy in 2013 and the 2011 Mari naval base disaster.

Stephanou hopes to mark a new era for AKEL.

“If we really want to change the reality in which we live and with which we are not at all satisfied, as the vast majority of our people, we must, first of all, reshape ourselves,” said Stephanou.

“AKEL will not be looking to retract its ideological and political identity but will engage in efforts to comprehend the demands and challenges of the new age, investing in who we have been for almost half a century”.

On the Cyprus issue, Stephanou said the country “needs a strong AKEL”.

“For the first time, we are so close to permanent division.”

On Monday, government spokesperson Marios Pelekanos said President Nicos Anastasiades had called Stephanou to congratulate him on his victory.

Anastasiades told Stephanou he would like to meet as soon as possible.

“The President also expressed the desire to have the closest possible cooperation with the General Secretary of AKEL, in a climate of consensus with full respect for existing disagreements, to promote decisions for the benefit of the country,” said Pelekanos.